When you think of machine learning or artificial intelligence, as it is more popularly known, the image of killer robots and Arnold Schwarzenegger famously saying, "I'll be back" in the Terminator movie come more to mind. However, this is not the case with Maties Machine Learning (MML).
In fact, the lead organisers of MML, Willie Brink and Herman Kamper, want people to forego all their preconceived notions of artificial intelligence. "Machine learning is not machines killing everyone and becoming sentient. It is a form of intelligence but it is essentially artificial. Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence, with the focus on machines that learn to build algorithms and so enable a computer to find patterns or structure in data, using what it has learned in order to make sense of new situations," says Kamper.
MML is a seminar series and discussion forum that Kamper and Brink spearheaded a year ago at Stellenbosch University (SU). The goal of MML is to bring together people working on machine learning at SU. The seminars are held every second week on campus and comprise short talks on people's current work or some machine learning-related topic, followed by open discussions. The idea is that it will also allow people to know what others are working on and to strengthen machine-learning research at Stellenbosch.
"We realised that there was a lot of interest scattered across campus and then we started this group, Maties Machine Learning that tries to bring together all these people. There are people in physics, statistics, biomedical engineering, applied maths, computer science and wine technology who are interested in machine learning," says Brink.
According to Brink and Kamper, any field that works with data and wants to make sense of data can make use of machine learning.
Kamper is a lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Brink is a senior lecturer of Applied Mathematics at SU. They both share a great enthusiasm for machine learning and want people to focus on machine learning as a great innovative technology that can help Africa and the rest of the world for good.
"The community that we are involved in has a very positive attitude towards machine learning. We really want to develop machine learning to make the world a better place or at least to make South Africa and Africa a better place," says Brink.
Apart from the MML seminars, Kamper and Brink are also involved in another initiative called the Deep Learning Indaba. This summer school initiative aims to strengthen machine learning in Africa. This year's Indaba will be the second of its kind in Africa and will be held in the Endler Hall at SU in September. The Indaba has an application process, which has closed for this year. Over 1 300 mainly postgraduate students from Africa, Germany, Asia and the USA applied to the Indaba but only around 500 could be selected to attend. The keynote speaker at this year's Indaba will be the head of Google's Artificial Intelligence Unit.
"The level of participation and excitement was beyond our expectation. This event is also the second one of its kind; last year it was at Wits. Next year it is going to be in Nairobi. We are really trying to make it a Pan-African event. We also want Stellenbosch University to benefit from this and make it the hub of machine learning in Africa," say Kamper and Brink.
For more information on MML and the Deep Learning Indaba, click here.
- Willie Brink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Herman Kamper at email@example.com.