Takeaways From My First AI/ML Conference in Morocco – Part 1

TechInnov Day AI for Africa

Over the years, I’ve been invited to speak at many conferences all over the globe, but Ben Guerir, Morocco, is a first. Before this engagement, I didn’t even know where the University town of Ben Guerir was (I can’t even find much about it on Wikipedia). As with the first time for anything, I have experienced and learned a lot (both academically and culturally), and I’d like to share some of my personal takeaways.

I am not going to talk about anything academic or technical today, as that will come in subsequent posts over the next few days.

TechInnov Day AI for Africa Organizers

TechInnov Day – AI for Africa is a unique 2-day conference that brings together renowned ML/AI scientists/practitioners and Moroccan industries facing challenges in today’s fast-changing digital economy. I am deeply honored to be among the invited speakers. It’s co-organized by 3 universities: Ecole Centrale Casablanca, Ecole Polytechnique (X), and ERMINES (the school of industrial management) at UM6P, whose campus is located in Ben Guerir. Due to unforeseen schedule conflicts, I was only able to make it by the end of day 1, but it’s just enough for me to deliver my keynote on day 2 after a good rest after the long journey.

Realtime machine translation still has much room for improvement

After arriving the colorful city of Marrakech (where we stay), I attended the pre-dinner reception with the conference sponsors, consisting of business leaders from various Moroccan industries. Since everyone there speaks French, and I don’t speak any, I tried to use the live-translation feature on my Pixel 7 phone to understand what was being presented and discussed.

Although it gave me a general understanding of the topic and direction of the conversation, the translation was not good enough for me to understand what was discussed precisely. I believe this is because the contents were all long-form presentations and in-depth discussions rather than conversational dialogs. Regardless, the translations are definitely not good enough for me to interject and join the discussion.

So, despite all the hype around ChatGPT, language translation (especially for lengthy discussions in a live situation) still has plenty of room for improvement.

Maybe we can one day automate the drudgery of managing a business

Dr. Michael Wu with Prof Yann LeCun at TechInnov Day AI for Africa in Marrakech, Morocco
Dr. Michael Wu with Prof Yann LeCun at TechInnov Day AI for Africa in Marrakech, Morocco

After the reception, I had the honor of meeting Yann LeCun at dinner. For those who don’t know, Yann is the co-recipient of the prestigious Turing Awards (which is like the Nobel Price for Computer Science) in 2018 for his work in Deep Neural Network (DNN). Yann is also known as the father of Convolutional Neural Network (ConvNet, CNN) for inventing it and popularizing its application. Today, CNN is still a widely used DNN architecture for modeling visions and for processing images (e.g. in Dall-E 2).

Since my PhD thesis is in modeling human visual processing, I’ve read many papers from Yann LeCun during my graduate studies. And throughout my data science career, I’ve leveraged many of Yann’s inventions, even adopting his slides to explain certain machine learning concepts. Meeting him today with his accolades is truly humbling and inspiring.

Since Yann is also the Chief AI Scientist at FAIR (Facebook AI Research), I was eager to ask him about Meta’s new AI, Cicero. The most interesting capability of Cicero is that it can negotiate, persuade, cooperate, and work with humans. Since a large part of managing a business involves strategic negotiation (whether it’s internally with employees or externally with other businesses), Cicero could potentially serve as the negotiation engine. With ChatGPT, we already have an effective communication engine if we know what we want to say. So what if we combine Cicero (who knows WHAT it wants to convey to achieve a certain objective) and ChatGPT (who knows HOW to communicate that effectively with humans)?

meta cicero + openAI chatGPT

As a scientist, I never liked managing a business. So, I asked Yann if he sees the possibility of automating business management to a large extent by seamlessly integrating Cicero with ChatGPT. Although Yann wasn’t directly involved with building Cicero, he’s quite open-minded and said “Maybe!” And that’s a good enough answer for me. Indeed, if we manage to connect 2 of the smartest AIs in the world today, perhaps we can one day automate the drudgery of managing a business.

Stay tuned… More to come in the next few updates of the My Takeaways series.