#OSCON Keynote Day 1 Recap

Open source lovers gathered for the 15th annual O’Reilly OSCON this week in Portland.  As is the custom, the first few days of the conference featured extensive training sessions on a wide variety of topics.  Today, though, marked the beginning of the keynote sessions in the Portland Ballroom covering topics ranging from programmable robots, Canonical’s advancements in both phones and orchestration, and the neocortex.

Canonical, phones, and Juju

Founder Mark Shuttleworth shared Canonical’s latest news in their entry into the phone market, Ubuntu Edge.  They are using an interesting crowd funding model to create a market testbed for the phone market so that the technology can be proven out more thoroughly prior to a large production run.  The analogy they make is to the car industry where Formula 1 racing acts as an innovation test bed.

Mark’s presentation wasn’t all phones, though.  He also gave a very impressive demo of their orchestration framework, Juju, and it’s new graphical interface based on their Charms concept that makes combining software in more complicated combinations as easy as dragging and dropping.  This is a concept that ProfitBricks has embraced for VM deployments with our Data Center Designer and we’ve certainly found that a GUI increases ease-of-use and makes cloud concepts more approachable to a wider audience.

Programming Robots to Be Friends

When a conference keynote speaker starts her talk by introducing her “drone wrangler”, you know you’re in for something special and Carin Meier didn’t disappoint.  In what was easily the most crowd-pleasing talk of the morning, Carin shared (slightly tongue-in-cheek) how a childhood fascination with robots led her to experimenting with programmatic interfaces provided by a Roomba and a 4 rotor drone helicopter.  After getting past basic operations of movement, she borrowed 70s automation concepts of smart appliances like thermostats having beliefs (“the temperature is cold” or “the temperature is hot”) and goals (“the temperature is just right”) and applied them to the idea that a robot vacuum and a helicopter could be friends.

In am amazing video, she showed how she was able to program the vacuum to move around a room with a visually distinctive and orienting graphic that the helicopter’s visual sensors could understand.  She then programmed the helicopter to search the room for the symbol as it moved around below it and, once it found it, track it’s movements including matching the orientation with the caveat that once the vacuum stopped the helicopter would land on top of it.  The results looked a little like a high tech dance and showcased not only the power of programmable devices, but in chaining them together in creative ways.

Programming AI and the Neocortex

Any good morning keynote session has a talk that makes your brain hurt.  This year, OSCON didn’t disappoint because they had former Palm founder Jeff Hawkins discuss the work his new organization, Numenta is doing.  Jeff’s talk started with a brief explanation of how the neocortex works to provide the basis for all knowledge within our brains.  He explained how the 4 layers, the whole thing only 2mm thick and containing over 60 billion synapses, work together to obtain new information, feed it to your body, and help the feedback/attention mechanism.

Numenta is using the latest biological science understanding of the neocortex to enable a level of artificial intelligence not seen before.  As was shown in their breakout session later in the day, this involves learning steps you may have seen with AI technologies in the past, but Numenta’s latest mechanisms for mimicking the neocortex produce much faster and more precise results than I’ve seen before.  Examples of temperature prediction and anomaly analysis were discussed in the detailed session and the line to talk to Jeff and his engineers afterward was 7 people deep at least.

Intrigued by the possibilities of what they’ve created, Numenta has open sourced their core engine, called NuPIC to accelerate the advancement in applications of this technology.  The crowd was definitely buzzing over possibilities like vision, natural language processing, and robotics.

Welcoming Our Sentient Robot Overloards

That last one, in combination with Carin’s talk, led to a fun Twitter exchange started here:


Click to see full Twitter exchange

After a plethora of nerd parties and meet-ups tonight throughout the Portland area, OSCON continues tomorrow with a second full morning of keynotes.