AAAI 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Over the last few days, I attended AAAI 2018, which is among the premier conferences on AI conducted in the whole year. I feel honored that I got a chance to present my research project under the ‘Innovative Applications of Artificial Intelligence’ (IAAI-18) track, and attend the whole conference. Having attended two much smaller and more specialized IEEE conferences in the last 6 months, the sheer scale and expert knowledge of AAAI has been an overwhelming experience.

Here are some quick observations:

  • AI research is just beginning to scrape the surface. There is so much more that is possible, so much more to do and so many more things to accomplish.
  • It seems pretty evident that AI is distinguishing itself as its own science field, away from computer science. Most of presentations I saw did not talk about the computational aspect, because the large time, data, capacity and computational abilities required are assumed. But so is research for most other sciences like physics, biology, chemistry, etc. AI has its fundamentals in computer science, but it is carving its own place.
  • Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Reinforcement Learning, Computer Vision, etc. have started to branch out as distinct fields. Working in one of them does not mean you are good enough to work in any or all of them. Domain specific knowledge is valuable.
  • The importance of research is extremely well understood by American and Chinese companies. I did see representation from a few other Asian and European companies as well, but what was noteworthy for me was the lack of any Indian company presenting significant research work in AI.
  • Indian companies may be absent, but a lot of AI research at various institutions and universities is conducted (and presented) by Indians. I think this also exemplifies the limitations with our academic structure and the desperate need for its overhaul. Except a few professors from IITs, most of the Indians at the conference did not reside / conduct research in India.
  • Research is a significant division of every Chinese technology company like Didi, Tencent, Alibaba, JD, Baidu, etc. Even after spending a couple of days in China last October, I was really surprised at the scale of the work these companies do. (Didi powers more than 20 million rides everyday!)
  • Most companies are just beginning to explore and deploy the first sets of AI applications, and are already impressed. Others that have been in the area for quite a while are marching ahead at great speeds. But AI is more than just a buzzword, and it needs to be deployed with care.

I am glad I switched my research area within the first semester of starting my Master’s program. It is an exciting time to be living in, and especially so if you work in AI!

P.S.: In case you are wondering, I presented a water demand prediction model that I developed as a class project in Spring 2017, and improved during Summer 2017 at IAAI-18. While this project was in applied AI, my primary research area is applied natural language processing in the healthcare domain. Feel free to write to me if you want to know more!