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Exploring the human side of artificial intelligence at PHLAI

The Comcast-sponsored event brought out hundreds of technologists for a full day of tech talks and networking focused on machine learning and AI. The takeaway? Philadelphia coding talent in this space rivals that of anywhere else.

Cisco's Dave Ward presents his thoughts on how AI is impacting the telecommunications industry. (Photo via Twitter user @CiscoSP360)
This is a guest post by Comcast Executive Director of Product Jeanine Heck.
It may be time to stop talking about machine learning and artificial intelligence as technologies of the future.

On Tuesday, Aug. 15, engineers and developers from across the region shared how these technologies are at work today, dramatically transforming products, operations, business processes and, most importantly, the customer experience.

Sponsored by Comcast, PHLAI brought together hundreds of technologists for a full day of tech talks and networking focused on machine learning and AI (here’s our preview piece from July). More than 20 speakers filled three tracks on operations, product and business intelligence — with subjects ranging from using deep learning to prevent human trafficking; to the technology behind Pinterest recommendations; to Comcast’s own X1 Voice Remote and the machine-learning that powers our homegrown Natural Language Processing platform.

While the applications for these technologies span the widest possible range of uses, the unifying theme throughout the PHLAI talks was that artificial intelligence and machine learning have already deeply transformed the way we do business and deliver service to customers, and that transformation is only accelerating.

Comcast Chief Product Officer Chris Satchell kicked off the day sharing some lessons from his early background developing AI for video games, including the critical importance of factoring customer behavior and attitudes into decisions made in the development process. It’s fine for AI systems to be complex, Satchell said, but “if a customer can’t build a mental model of what’s happening in the background, they tend to dismiss it as random.”

Dave Ward, CTO of Engineering and Chief Architect at Cisco, painted a compelling picture of how machine learning and AI applications aren’t just growing but also converging as the boundaries between traditional AI domains like security, automation, Internet of Things and marketing begin to dissolve. Machine learning and AI aren’t “magical algorithms,” Ward said, but the reality may be much more exciting, as these technologies deliver real customer value and become increasingly mainstream.

Another key takeaway from the event was the importance of human intervention at every step of the AI and machine learning implementation process. Even mature AI and machine learning systems will learn bad behaviors (false positives, etc.) and must be properly operated to yield the best result. Things that are hard, or even impossible for the human mind can be trivial for AI, but the reverse is also true. The best AI outcomes come from people and machines working together.

Philadelphia technologists at the forefront

One thing that was on full display at PHLAI was the vast breadth of engineering leadership  coming out of Philadelphia. While participants and speakers came from as far away as California, the vast majority were based here.

PHLAI is the third in a series of one-day technical conferences that we kicked off in January with Scala by the Schuylkill. Response to these events has been incredible. Our final event of the year, which focuses on the craft of software development, is already in the works, and we’re planning another full slate of technical conferences right here throughout 2018.

In just these three events, we confirmed something we already knew: the technology and engineering community in Philadelphia is amazing, diverse and growing, and that we are capable of great things when we come together.

We’re looking forward for many more events to come. Keep an eye on the Comcast Labs blog for news about upcoming conferences and how to register.

Companies: Comcast

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