Copilots Series Special: In Conversation with KShiv, the Cognitive Wizard

As part of the ongoing Copilots specials series, we spoke with various co-pilots from different tracks and sub-communities (Blockchain. Cognitive). We begin the series with KShiv’s conversation with charles.lobo. Kshiv has been a copilot for some very interesting challenges for the Cognitive Community recently.

Before we get into Kshiv’s take on copiloting at Topcoder, let’s get to know him a bit. Shivkumar Kannan is mridangam (an Indian drum) playing, American football loving, tech enthusiast from India. He hasn’t been a Topcoder member for very long, but he’s already making quite an impression and was invited for TCO17. KShiv recently created the the March Madness Challenge series that heavily relied on the usage of IBM Watson.

Charles began by asking him about his Topcoder journey so far.

“My participation in Topcoder has been very selective and sporadic, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was invited to TCO17. Having worked in varied domains, using different technologies for diverse products, my learning is that it is boring to be slotted! I also have to admit that I like new technologies but I hate installing them and getting them to work on my computer (being a part of Topcoder, ensures that I don’t fall back on the learning front).

KShiv has an affinity toward AI-driven technologies. He encourages new developers to find their area of interest in this still nascent field. Charles asked him to share his views on the learning curve for someone interested in AI.

“Data science, Machine learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (dealing with heuristic algorithms) could all be classified under the broad umbrella of AI. It is my belief that you have to understand the basics and theory underlying the topics before you start using tools. This may actually help you in getting the best out of the numerous tools available. There are a number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on these topics taught by experts on platforms like Coursera and edX. Different teaching styles suit different people, so you could select courses that appeal to you.”

I could also recommend two books ‘Speech and Language Processing’ by Jurafsky and Martin and ‘Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach’ by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig.

KShiv developed a set of interesting and creative challenges – the March Madness series – . for the Cognitive Community earlier this year. Charles got him to share his thought process behind the problems he created.

“Natural Language Understanding (NLU) being one of the most difficult areas in AI, I decided to explore the NLU capabilities of Cognitive. The question I asked was, can we build a winning team based not merely on players’ statistics, but also on how top critics viewed their game play? The first two challenges laid the foundation and the third was about custom-selecting a team. The final challenge was a mutual trivia game. The difficulty was in formulating the problems in such a way, so as to allow new participation, while giving a slight edge to ‘early entrants’. As the whole series was aligned with the real March Madness tournament, injecting a real-time feel was the creative part.”

You can read about the entire creative process behind the March Madness series, here.

Finally, Charles asked KShiv about the promises and pitfalls of AI and what does he think about the The Singularity (the hypothesis that the invention of Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization) theory.

“As with every ‘technology-of-the-moment’, the expectations from AI are very high. The press is having a field day with headlines like “AI is going to replace your jobs”, “AI is going to cure cancer”. If you have a job in AI, you must be ready for everyday bouquets and brickbats.

The Singularity is the holy grail of AI technologists and it has captured the imagination of the common people for many decades now [as evidenced in pop culture]. I’ll be back to answer this question (in the future)!”

On a lighter note, Kshiv couldn’t help but make a rather amusing observation about the Film Industry in India.

“While all other film industries in India are boring one letter variations on Hollywood (Bollywood, Tollywood …), the Bangalore film industry is an exotic aromatic – Sandalwood.”

We hope you enjoyed this conversation with KShiv. We will be back next week with another copilot, from the Design Community.

As interviewed by charles. lobo