A Look Back on AI Events in May

Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important. One point of evidence is the growing number of conferences and special events devoted to the subject. Most recently, the AI Summit drew crowds to London, Digital Future happened in Berlin, and Microsoft Build 2017 took place in Seattle.

AI Summit, London

The AI summit is one of the world’s largest expert gatherings for artificial intelligence. Miles Lynam-Smith participated in a panel discussion on behalf of Deutsche Telekom and shared his experiences. One of the goals for attending was to make additional contacts in the AI sector and find out more about other companies’ efforts. Many well-known and also many lesser-known players in the industry spoke at the event, including representatives from the law firm Bird & Bird and Deutsche Bahn. As part of the summit, participants could speak to and network with emerging and often not yet known start-ups.

Martin Bäumler, marketing lead with Deutsche Telekom’s eLIZA project, was particularly impressed by Chema Alonso, chief data officer of Telefonica. “Chema is somebody you’d expect to meet at a skater park and not at a telecommunications group,” Bäumler says. “He walked the stage sporting a knit cap, Star Wars T-shirt, and jeans and showed PowerPoint slides full of pictures and sketches he’d drawn himself. Chema doesn’t use traditional company workflows with pretty images but uses a felt-tip pen to come up with rough shapes right then and there.”

Before joining Telefonica, Alonso was a well-known hacker and had won every single hacker prize and hacker competition. Bäumler continues: “I was fascinated by his totally different take on a telco group’s data and how to use it. Alonso firmly believes that customer data belongs to the customers, and they can do whatever they want with it. That means that the customer is also responsible for his or her data and how it’s handled.”

Alonso reminds Bäumler of T-Mobile’s boss John Legere, whom Handelsblatt once called a “Pop-star in magenta”. He adds: “People who do things differently are absolutely not the kind of guys you’d expect to meet in management. I like that.”

In short, the mood at the AI Summit can only be described as very euphoric. AI isn’t just a lot of hot air - the first concepts have already been successfully implemented. “Everybody has an enormous amount of to-dos on their roadmap, and many people pursue big visions,” Bäumler explains. “Telekom is right on track and much further along than many other companies, but we’re not leading the pack yet”.

The Telekom manager’s take-away from experiencing the summit and having discussions with other companies? Two basic principles of marketing are increasingly holding true,  Bäumler says. “Start with a customer problem, not with the technology. Do something, not just because you can but to solve a problem. These two sentences have always defined my work as a product manager, and they’re becoming even more relevant to cut through the noise in our high-tech world”.

Digital Future, Berlin

Jan Morgenthal, chief product owner of the eLIZA project, participated at Digital Future as a keynote speaker, talking about “Why Conversational Bots Disappoint and How to Build Better Ones.” Digital Future is one of the largest science-related events in Germany, hosted by the Zuse Institute Berlin together with the Berlin Big Data Center, Einstein Center Digital Future, Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, and Tagesspiegel.

Morgenthal came away very impressed by the conference: “It’s the perfect place to keep up with current developments for all things AI and to experience them live. It’s also a great venue to make contacts with the German-speaking AI community and to get the right experts interested in Telekom. It allows us to build relationships with universities and meet up-and-coming researchers.”

The event demonstrated that AI is already playing a larger role in science than in the corporate world. The areas for practical use cases are substantially larger, even though most applications are still in their infancy. “The contributions from the commercial sector mostly dealt with setting up corresponding departments. They’re planning to use AI, but just not yet,” says Morgenthal. “At Telekom, it looks as if we’re ahead in this regard.”

His (only) slightly ironic summary of Digital Future: “Presentations from the world of science are much more difficult to understand than those from the business world. Scientists tend to use very complex explanations even for relatively simple issues and they stuff their decks with too many slides.”

Microsoft Build 2017, Seattle

Mark Mauerwerk, chief architect of the eLIZA project, and three of his colleagues had a much longer journey. They participated in Microsoft Build 2017 in Seattle, Microsoft’s largest annual expert event. Participants can get an overview of the latest technologies and try them out as part of an end-to-end scenario during a so-called immersion workshop.

Mauerwerk sums up his experience: “We were able to get to know Microsoft architects personally and discuss options for possible use at Deutsche Telekom. Making new contacts was important for us, as we’re making new experiences and could learn through lectures, discussions, and in-depth exchanges with experts.”

Microsoft has long moved from being a pure software provider to become a technology company that integrates open standards in its own product stacks. “I find it impressive to see how the company has grown and developed, linking virtual and augmented reality and AI in order to solve real-world problems,” says Mauerwerk. “The bandwidth is enormous and ranges from health care, such as surgery or cancer prevention, to designing stage sets for Cirque Du Soleil.”

Mauerwerk also participated in the AI immersion workshop which let participants use their own pictures in order to recognise faces and  emotions by using cognitive services. “It was all done using your own account in the Azure Cloud, which is really simple to use,” recalls Mauerwerk. What’s more, he became acquainted with every Trekkie’s dream in Seattle: “We saw a presentation for a virtual interpreter who also understands Klingon, and a presentation translator which translates spoken text for a PowerPoint presentation in real-time.”

The few days in Seattle proved that things are indeed moving at warp speed. Mauerwerk’s summary after beaming himself back to Germany: “We were able to get an excellent read on what’s already possible in using AI today. Getting that fresh input allows us to have even more intelligent conversations going forward.”

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