February 8th, 2019

The Journey of Pi and AI: An AI conference with heart

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I was in San Francisco this (past) week as part of H2O World 2019. I flew in the week before and took a red-eye flight back home right after the conference on Tuesday night. Like any technology conference, this one had fantastic presentations, training, and product roadmap presentations. We even live streamed it if you couldn’t be there in person (you can watch the replays here). Needless to say that it was two days of ‘talking shop’, learning new things, and being inspired.

If you checked the numbers, this conference was our largest ever. It’s a testament to how far H2O has journeyed in this space, from its humble beginnings at a coffee shop to its open source offerings and Driverless AI. It’s our community and customers that drive H2O forward, and that is the most humbling part of this amazing journey.

An AI Conference with Heart

There was something really different about H2O World SF. The realization of it hit me like a wave at 30,000 feet somewhere over the United States. This wasn’t just an ordinary AI conference, this was an AI conference with heart.

It’s when we realize that AI is really a metaphor for life itself.

An AI conference with heart is such a strange thing to say. It almost feels like its some marketing gimmick, but it’s not. I knew something was very different at the close of training (Day 1).

The Journey of Pi and AI

At the end of Day 1 we were treated to a Bharatanatyam performance of The Life of Pi, a bestseller written by Yann Martel. It’s the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel who is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Open with a Bengal Tiger. The story has many metaphors for life and personal growth with the ocean being the journey of life itself.

The main character in the dance (and book) crosses over the ocean and eventually reaches safety. Along the way, he has several epiphanies that lead to personal growth and self-introspection. The journey Pi experiences is a lot like the journey many young data scientists and organizations go through in their quest to learn and use AI.

Math IS truth.

It’s like when our community tries new algorithms and end up putting their insights into the production. It’s when organizations transform their services, research, and products through Driverless AI and our Open Source offering. It’s the realization that we can use AI to save wildlife. It’s a call to action to foster diversity in AI and ethics at all levels.

All our journeys main seem different, but whether we realize it or not, we really have the same destination. We seek the truth.

Universal Truth

What I love about math is that it’s simply is the search for equality. When ‘x =’s something, it’s equality. It conveys a simple truth. AI is really a complex manifestation of truth. From the simple elegance of linear regression to the complexity of a Gradient Boosted Tree, AI uses math to solve fundamental questions and challenges we as human beings face. Math becomes the truth. Math IS truth.

The lines are starting to blur…

The expression of the dancers on stage that afternoon taught me so much. I was moved to tears at their artistic expression, the rhythmic moves to the music. The story they told on stage as the music drove them on.

1, 2, 3, move. 1, 2, 3, turn. 1, 2, 3, move. 1, 2, 3, turn.

The dance and music become a pattern, they become a mathematical expression. It becomes a truth all to itself.

A call to arms

Day 2 of the conference had many wonderful presentations by customers and community users on how they’re using H2O and applying AI to solve hard problems in clever ways. They showed the audiences how they use it to make the world a better place and indirectly work it into the very fabric of life.

The lines are starting to blur between AI and our life. It’s so ingrained in everything we touch. From booking flights to fighting disease it’s become a vital aspect of who we are: Math. AI. Life.

Our Founder SriSatish Ambati closed H2O World with a call to arms. He shared with us the unexpected journey that his mother was forced to take when she was diagnosed with cancer. The story has a happy ending, she’s now cancer free but for many others, that’s not the case. Sri challenged us, armed with AI, to solve one of the biggest problems we face: a cure for cancer.

If that’s not a journey worth undertaking, then I do not know what is.

About the Author

Thomas Ott

Tom is a Senior Customer Solutions Engineer for H2O.ai. He started his career in Engineering working for large transportation firms around the USA before transitioning to the startup world in 2014. He comes to H2O.ai from his own Data Science consultancy and RapidMiner. A gritty and seasoned Sales Engineer, he worked across Product Marketing and Community Development and learned how to solve complex customer problems. He's a natural born tinkerer that loves figuring things out and getting it done.

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