Last week I was at the ML Conference in Berlin. The conference was very instructive for me. The lectures were about the technology behind machine learning, data science, security and algorithms. But then it was also discussed how to set up an ML project, which mistakes can be made, and why container technologies like Docker or Kubernetes make ML projects much easier. Most exciting were the lectures about concrete applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence. And of course the discussions with other participants did not come too short.
Most companies are currently experimenting with machine learning. There are only a few ideas on how these new technologies can bring real business benefits today. The hype in the media – both positive and negative – was far away. At the same time, everyone I spoke to agreed that in a few years, any company will have to use machine learning to stay in the market. It will be the lowest common denominator.
It will be used both in the public cloud and in the company’s own data center. The biggest problem in your own data center seems to be the slow processes. “It takes far too long for me to get a system set up. I’m much faster in the public cloud,” several people told me.
From VMware’s (my employer’s) point of view, I noticed that some participants knew us, but none associated VMware with machine learning and artificial intelligence. VMware offers interesting options when it comes to the flexibility and security of ML applications. Well, I’ll deal with that another time.
Here are two more highlights from my point of view:
How we avoid maritime accidents
The Keynote Data to the Rescue! Preventing Accidents at Sea by Dr. Yonit Hoffman of the Israeli startup Windward inspired me. Did you know that 10% of all ships have an accident once a year? With big data analysis and machine learning, Windward has developed models to predict and prevent accidents. 150 million data points on ship positions, ship types, weather information, water depths, proximity to ports, and many more have been brought together and translated into deep knowledge and understanding of what happens at sea. The lecture was really captivating.
The results have led to a very fruitful and interesting cooperation with insurance companies. Imagine which worlds meet. Maritime insurance companies have been working in a similar way for 350 years – often with paper. Now something new is emerging. And it is clearly driven by business. This is how I imagine the future of machine learning.
Rainwater drainage pipes for China
The most exciting conversation was with an employee of a company that manufactures sanitary systems for large buildings and rainwater drainage pipes. A special challenge are large flat roofs, e.g. for industrial plants or shops. The drainage pipes must have exactly the right diameter. If they are too small, too little water flows off. If they are too large, there is no suction effect. With the optimum diameter of the pipes, a suction is created in the pipe, which optimally drains off the rainwater.
I have learned that many years of professional experience are necessary to design these optimal pipes. This is a problem when you want to enter new markets. Now the company has managed to determine optimum rainwater pipe diameters much more quickly using machine learning. Now, for the first time, it is possible to enter new markets such as China without having employees there who have decades of experience.
If machine learning and artificial intelligence already deliver value in this extraordinary way today, then we will certainly see even more examples in the future. The limits are our creativity and imagination. Knowledge of technology is not enough. This is only a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the successful use of machine learning. Identifying business ideas is the real challenge.