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BarCamp and brainstorming instead of formal lectures: IAV’s AI Festival as the breeding ground for solutions and product ideas

IAV’s AI community meets experts from Berlin’s AI scene: the AI Festival on November 14 and 15, 2018 brought together around 100 participants in IAV’s Digital Lab to work on new solutions. Dr. Mirko Knaak, Product Owner of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the IAV Digital Lab, and Tobias Niewolik, Agile Master in the Digital Lab, talk about the event and the role that new formats such as BarCamps play in conferences and give an insight into their development work.

Dr. Mirco Knaak

What is the idea behind the AI Festival?

Tobias Niewolik: IAV has a large internal AI community made up of many experts. We’ve already had two similar events to enhance internal sharing, with great success. This time we wanted to open IAV to the outside community and have IAV’s specialists meet external experts. The first day therefore consisted of a Bar-Camp. This wasn’t a case of presenting solutions but of sharing questions with a need for assistance and new input. The second day then focused on brainstorming to find ideas – we call it “Creative Ideation”.

What exactly happened on each day?

Dr. Mirko Knaak: On the first day, everyone had an opportunity to present their topic for general discussion with the possibility of working immediately on a solution. For example, one of my colleagues presented a task related to text mining. External participants referred him immediately to an existing open-source solution and they all then got to work on programming. At the same time, other participants decided to take a look at pertinent scientific publications and analyzed the methods involved. As a result, a solution was obtained by a shared approach while at the same time generating new knowhow in this field.

Niewolik: Four platforms were set up on the first day to give the participants’ work during the BarCamp a bit of structure. The “Paper Club” offered scope to discuss scientific topics with shared learning. The “Open Source” platform was used to present open-source software, making it available to others. The “AI Clinic” gave every participant an opportunity to present a problem related to artificial intelligence and to work with the others on finding a solution. And the “Hacking” platform was ideal for those who wanted to tackle a topic immediately on the computer.

What happened on the second day?

Dr. Knaak: We wanted to work with all the participants on developing new product ideas based on artificial intelligence. Anyone could suggest a topic and find some contributors. The groups were accompanied by six creative facilitators. In the end, eight specific suggestions emerged from a large number of ideas. Three of the ideas received a prize. These consisted firstly of a smart home software that analyzes individual lifestyles and habits to control the consumption and storage of selfgenerated electricity or to sell it on the energy market. Then there was the “Data Castle” platform that asks companies like Facebook about saved personal data, puts these in a suitable structure and stores them so that only the user has access, thus giving the user control over his own data with the possibility of requesting their erasure. The third prize-winning idea was the “Sherlock” software for better diagnosis and treatment of complex illnesses – alluding to IBM’s Watson solution that has a similar purpose. Furthermore, all the other teams can also apply to IAV to obtain funding for their idea.

What did you learn from the AI Festival?

Niewolik: In fact, many BarCamp participants found it hugely helpful, and went away with new approaches to solving their problems. We had already seen this with our internal events, but the external experts often contributed a completely new way of looking at things. After all, they don’t see challenges in the same way as the automotive industry.

Dr. Knaak: One of the participants asked me: “Do formal lectures have any future at all?” I think in fact we’re going to see many changes here in future. At upcoming events, IAV will certainly be using open-space formats such as BarCamps where participants can make a more proactive contribution.

Cooperation also means sharing results. Can this work with companies that are competing with each other?

Dr. Knaak: There are still lots of high walls in the traditional world of the automotive industry. But this means lots there is a lot of duplication in development work, which is highly inefficient. There’s a lot to be learnt from the digital world which works on a completely different basis: about 80 percent of software is open source, which users take as a basis for the rest. We don’t all have to develop everything from scratch: instead, we can all concentrate on our specific part. On the other hand, users should contribute their own know-how to the open-source projects so that everyone benefits in the end.

When is the next AI Festival?

Niewolik: The next one is planned for May 2019. We’re expecting about 300 participants, including many external experts. We want to keep the same format for the AI Festival because it worked so well the first time.