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#ngage 11.0: Sporting Mediocrity and Social Media, Personal Branding, And Creative AIs

The eleventh edition of Dialog Axiata’s #ngage tech and social media meetup was last Wednesday (23), at the Dialog headquarters. As has come to be expected, the auditorium had a full house of geeks, techies, and startup enthusiasts.

This month’s installment featured attorney-at-law and sports broadcaster Shanaka Amarasinghe, fitness professional Gaia Kodithuwakku, and Youtuber Malinda Alahakoon. The subjects covered social media and sporting mediocrity, finding something you’re passionate about, and whether artificial intelligence could rival humans.


Instagram And Instant Celebrities

The first to take the stage, Shanaka Amarasinghe opened with the dictionary definition of the word ‘mediocre’. Then, he focused on its antonym.

“The opposite of mediocre is excellent, not average,” he stressed.

Elaborating more on the topic, Amarasinghe pointed out that excellence requires hard work every single day—and that hard work was the only way to achieve sporting excellence.

“Steph Curry practices his throw at least 300 times a day. What you see is the result of his hard work, there’s really no time to spend on social media. If you see a sportsman who’s mostly on social media, they’re probably not practicing as much as they should. Or, they’re not very good.”

The point he was driving at was that thanks to social media networking sites, people equate excellence with the ‘likes’ and ‘hearts’ they get online. “There’s a democratisation of opinions. When you look at social media like Facebook or Instagram, there’s a voting that happens. Whenever you ‘like’ or ‘love’ something, it becomes a vote—a vote based on nothing but opinion,” he elaborated.

While this might feel nice, the problem with the democratisation of opinion is that no weightage is given to expert opinion, which is completely sidelined.

“Now, everyone’s opinion becomes kind of the same. And then this in turn leads to echo chambers, which further dilutes excellence,” he reiterated.

Finding Your Passion

“If you ask me how I figured out what my passion was, I’d say it happened accidentally,” fitness professional Gaia Kodithuwakku said.

Recounting her childhood and the journey which lead her to becoming a fitness professional, Kodithuwakku stated that as she grew up, her family conditioned her to believe she would become a doctor by profession.

However, this never materialised as nothing ‘felt right’ for her. She kept trying out new and different things, and battled depression along the way, until she stumbled upon health and fitness. Inspired by Youtube celebrity and personal trainer Eliott Hulse, she began her fitness journey, inspiring hundreds along the way.

She wrapped up with three important things to remember in life.

“Be flexible and humble enough to step away from what doesn’t work for you. Be fearlessly authentic—this also means that you need to know yourself well enough. And, you also have to become obsessed with becoming better [than what you are].”

Humane AIs

Speaking about artificial intelligence (AI), Malinda Alahakoon asked the audience if AI could be intuitive, and follow what we call ‘gut feelings,’ regardless of rationality.

He asked if AIs could be taught intuition, and then spoke about numerous projects which proved that machines could, in fact, compete with humans where creativity and intuition were concerned.

Alahakoon pointed out that IBM’s computer Watson was able to create a movie trailer after combing through hundreds of trailers for horror and thriller films. The machine eventually learnt what elements could be used to keep people on the edge of their seats, and came up with a trailer on its own.

“This just goes to show that with human help, machines can create art,” he said.

He then discussed the possibility of machines gaining new knowledge out of nothing. Or, if machines can learn something without being given any data or context.

The truth? They can.

“A company called Deep Mind created a new machine called AlphaGo Zero, where no human input is given. The computer plays against itself, and learns. It took about two or three days of self-learning for it to learn everything there was to learn about chess, that humans took millenia to learn! It also learnt how to play Go,” he added, explaining that ‘Go’ was a very intuitive game, and had no rational basis.

Wrapping up the session, he reiterated that computers are now able to take risks, create art, have human intuition, and learn new knowledge out of nothing.

“Artificial intelligence isn’t the stuff we have in our pockets,” he laughed.

#ngage 11.0 concluded with refreshments and a fellowship session where participants got to mingle and engage with the presenters. Audience members also took to Twitter to live-tweet their thoughts on the speakers and the event. Follow the hashtag #ngage for more.

All photos courtesy of Dialog Axiata.

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