Takeaways from Intel AI Developer Workshop @ Bangalore
Images in this article are copyright of Intel.
I just returned from a full-day developer workshop organized by Intel. The focus was on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how Intel is contributing in mankind's best efforts to teach machines to sense, reason and decide. The event was a useful peek into what Intel is bringing to the table in terms of both hardware and software. Beyond that, it was not an event that I would call a developer workshop since there were no hands-on sessions, demos or even tips and tricks that developers can use. The event was structured as a line of talks in order to bring awareness of Intel's involvement in AI and where the market is headed.
AI originated in the 1950s but it was only in the 1980s when Machine Learning (ML) came about that people started to think it might be possible to realize AI. Machines can be trained and then asked to solve problems. Their algorithms could be tweaked as they learn and relearn with more sets of data. Deep Learning (DL) came about as a sub-branch of ML, where neural networks became the basis of learning. DL has brought us closer to the dream of realizing AI but DL alone did not achieve this.
Measure, analyze and optimize app experience
I come mostly from a web app background. I haven't done much work in the mobile apps except for dabbling with some sample code in React Native. Mobile has come a long way. Yes, it's built on the foundations of web app development but today it has a life and roadmap of its own. I was therefore glad to attend today's event organized by Flurry, which is a platform for mobile analytics. Flurry was founded in 2005 and acquired by Yahoo in 2014. The event this afternoon was attended by entrepreneurs, developers and marketing executives. There was so much information packed into one afternoon that I'm sure everyone took away something useful from it, even if they were experienced in the mobile space.
The format was a mix of panel discussions and focused talks. It was nice to see representation from a spectrum of Indian start-ups. It happens sometimes that events organized by US or European companies feature speakers who know quite well their US or European markets but nothing much about the Indian market. Today's event was quite different. With speakers and moderators from Paytm, Flipkart, CouponDunia, Wooplr, Bounty, YourStory and more, it was clearly and rightly focused on the Indian market. There were of course guys from Flurry, Truecaller and Branch Metrics who gave lot of additional insights.
The future of real-time apps
This afternoon I got to attend an event organized by Kranky Geek at 91Springboard, Bangalore. The topic of the day was WebRTC, an API and protocol that enables real-time communications without the pain of installing plugins, configuring devices or worrying about security. The event was nicely structured: an overview, a detailed explanation of a typical call setup and its API calls, a live coding demo, a look at multiparty complexities, and finally an insight into how a startup PiOctave is using WebRTC in its IoT product.
Real-time communications has always been a challenge on the web, although I must point out that the birth of UDP/IP/VoIP owes a lot to Network Voice Protocol (NVP) of the 1970s, perhaps the first real-time protocol of the Internet. The problem was that back then we were handicapped by low bandwidths and modem speeds. This is not much of a problem these days but true many-to-many media streaming is hampered by the architecture of the web. WebRTC is trying to overcome that.
The use of pulsed RADAR for range and speed measurement
In college you study so many interesting subjects that it's really a pity that you don't have the opportunity to pursue most of them. You have only one life. You have to choose one discipline to focus on. In fact, to contribute most as an engineer, you have to concentrate on the important problems of your chosen discipline. But when you are starting your career, choosing a discipline is not easy. Often students will look at job availability, growth opportunities, pay scales, and so on. This is good strategy for the average student. But if you've proven yourself as among the best, it's more important to make this choice based on your passion. The question is really not to ask which is a good job but rather what you are passionate about. With passion, and a willingness to learn and work smart, you can be good at any job you choose.
I have always been a communications engineer but most of my career has been about software protocols for wireless communication systems. I never got a chance to work on RADAR, which we may consider as the grand daddy of intelligent wireless communication systems. While radio broadcasting came earlier, it did not have the intelligence that RADAR brought. With RADAR, one could sense the world around without having a line of sight. RADAR was extensively used during the Second World War. Some even attribute the victory of the Allies more to RADAR than the atomic bomb. RADAR in turn contributed to the development of many other technologies in areas of astronomy, medical technology and meteorology. Today RADAR has branched into Electronic Warfare (EW) and to win the battle in the domain of EM waves is as important as winning it with physical assets.
At the intersection of design and technology
If you look at the development cycle of most products, design comes first and then the first iteration of the product is engineered to satisfy design requirements. What follows is testing, evaluation, re-design and re-engineering in an iterative fashion. There are of course two types of design: industrial design that deals with aspects of aesthetics, usability and ergonomics; engineering design that deals with product functionality, safety, maintenance, ease of manufacturing, and so on. Often these two disciplines are taken up by different teams and there's no common ground; at least, that's how historically people have been working.
Designers have for years been doing their primary work on pen and paper, doing concept sketches and perspectives. With computerization and associated tools, many designers have moved to the digital world, doing their designs with sophisticated object modeling and rendering. Yet, their focus has been on industrial design. Engineering design is left to engineers or at best considered at a later part of the development process. Some of this is changing in recent years.
Comparing the two with examples
Two of the hottest technologies of this year have been Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). While both these are still in their nascent stages of development and application, lot of progress has been made. Big names and start-ups are getting into the game with a sense of urgency. They know the potential. They are keen to tap into them as early as possible. Let's begin with a simple scenario.
Suppose you wish to visit Paris, and in particular, the Eiffel Tower. In the world of VR, your tour agent may offer you a headset. You wear it and suddenly you see yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower. You turn around and you see the surroundings on a bright summer morning. You can hear people talking in French. You can see other tourists walking around with maps and Lonely Planet editions. Suddenly, the scene changes. It's past sunset. You are looking at the tower from a distance, beautifully lit on a moonless night.
An opinion on an exciting new technology
Virtual Reality (VR) is one of the hot topics of 2016. We've been getting an almost constant stream of articles on VR in tech blogs and news sites. Quite a lot of it is hype as one would expect of any new technology. At the same time, some of this hype is being translated into commercial products as innovators reach out to grasp and realize the full potential of VR.
Gaming is the first application of VR. This is expected because games have already come a long way from the real world to the cyber world. Today we play Scrabble with strangers across the globe rather than play it with friends across the coffee table. We play Fantasy Cricket rather than go out to the ground next door. Indeed, one of the promises of VR is to fulfil fantasies, to take us away from the mundane routines of the real world, and to show us exotic places and experiences that we can normally only dream of.
Frequency band, range, throughput, devices and more
With lot of people increasingly getting connected to the internet, wireless routers are becoming more popular. These routers use Wi-Fi to setup a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) to allow your devices to connect to the router wirelessly. The router is then connected to the internet through the ISP (Internet Service Provider). The advantage is that multiple devices can be connected and you do not need wires to be drawn from your device to the router.
On the manual of a wireless router there will be descriptions such as "up to 300 mbps throughput" or "supports 802.11 b/g/n". What does all this mean and will it really impact the speed at which the end device (like PC or tablet or smartphone) accesses internet? Does having a router with latest specifications guarantee faster data speed and what are the factors that impact this? These are some of the things we will explore in this blog.