Last month I got to experience my first conference as a PhD student. Some of the highlights of the trip were, my unexpected encounter with the CEO of NVIDIA and visiting Google headquarters. So, read ahead to know more…
The GPU technology conference in the heart of Silicon Valley, is an industrial level conference that focuses on the research carried both by academia and industry. The central theme was to showcase the power of GPU computing in fields like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual reality and Self driving cars. Since, the conference schedule is quite overwhelming, as it featured more than 500 sessions with speakers from Audi, Baidu, Boeing, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Samsung and Twitter, among many others; it was not possible for me to attend everything. So, prior to my arrival I planned out the important ones I wanted to attend like the keynotes, posters, presentations and exhibits.
On the contrary, the journey to San Jose for me was quite exciting as it was the first time I was travelling to the US. I got to see some amazing landscapes. In particular , I passed by a huge mountain which I later found out was an active volcano known as Mt. Rainier, in Seattle.
At the conference…
The keynotes are one of the most important things in a conference and I am glad I did not miss them. The keynotes are delivered by top experts in the field and are quite different from the remaining events as they showcase the main trends in research and industry, some fun live demos as well as give a flavour of the exciting events of the conference.
The opening keynote was delivered by the CEO of NVIDIA, Jen-Hsun Huang. I remembered when I entered the room, it had an aura of a rock music concert with music, lighting, a massive stage and the emerald-green NVIDIA logo, flashing on the screen behind. The atmosphere really built my anticipation and I can say that it did not disappoint. 😛
His talk was enjoyable, as he was very charismatic and brought in a lot of humour into the talk. The most memorable joke of the day was when he asked Steve Woznaik, to be the first person to have a one-way ticket to experience the MARS 2030 VR demo, and Steve exclaimed, “wow! I’m getting dizzy! I’m gonna fall out of this chair.” And to this he replied “Well, Woz, that was not a helpful comment”.
Jen unveiled the exciting new releases by NVIDIA in deep learning, virtual reality and self-driving cars. In particular, NVIDIA unveiled five important releases which included the world’s first supercomputer in a box ; DGX-1, NVIDIA SDK for the new PASCAL architecture, NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPU, NVIDIA Iray VR and Drive PX. Along with this, NVIDIA announced its first autonomous race car:
The second key note was delivered by Rob High CTO of IBM Watson, His talk was centred on Cognitive Computing and featured their very humanoid IBM Watson powered NAO robot. Not only is its ability to understand languages unreal but I think it could challenge me to a dance- off as I saw the little guy bust some of its moves to Oppa Gangam style. And yes, I have a video of that ! 😀
Finally, Gill Pratt CEO of Toyota Research Institute, talked about ROBOTS, CARS and SUPERCOMPUTERS and I was thinking.. “Am I getting a Transformer-vibe?”
Anyways, I think it is a long way from robots turning into cars or vice-versa…or is it?
His talk focused on robots that were semi-autonomous (Parallel autonomy; that would assist rather than be fully autonomous). He showed live demos where a semi-autonomous robotic arm outperformed a fully autonomous arm in the simple task of picking a cube. He hopes to bring this to the automotive industry by equipping cars with semi-autonomous AI while a person is driving, which would allow safe driving.
Posters and Beers:
The poster presentations is a jammed packed event where I got a chance to have one-on-one chats with the authors and learn about the research they were working on. I was proud to see a poster by my colleague and friend James Clarkson from the APT group at The University of Manchester. I was quite impressed with the work he had done in porting KinectFusion algorithm in CUDA in Java and running it on GPUs. Java has a large developer base and his work is interesting for anyone interested in accelerating their Java programs using GPUs. He is supervised by Dr. Mikel Lujan from the APT group for anyone who is interested in finding more about this project.
For anyone planning to attend a conference, there are lots of events dedicated to meeting new people such as Dinner with Strangers. Apart from that there are VIP invites for certain parties/ get-togethers after the event. Along with James, I was able to attend some of these, and we got the chance to get a picture clicked with Jen (CEO, NVIDIA). Just like his keynote, he was quite joyful and funny to talk to. This conference set the bar high for me. Meeting a CEO, will be on my check list for my next conference 😛 . Also, anyone interested in attending this conference can do so for the next GTC which will be held in Europe this September in Amsterdam for the first time (28-29 Sep)
My first VR experience was at The University of Manchester at events like DigiLab where I got to see some third year Undergraduate projects in VR.
At GTC, the VR village is a must see event, if you are interested in escaping reality and diving into a new world. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed about the registration process for the VR village. We had to stand in an extra long queue to register ( psst. boring and slow)! In spite of that I could not register for The MARS 2030 event as it was booked completely for all the days.
- VR Gaming
However, I was able to register Bullet train with Oculus rift and experience some VR gaming. The game sets off in a bullet train where I had the opportunity to teleport and shoot bad guys. I swear I almost quivered when a bullet virtually zoomed past me. I would like to have VR for watching movies in the future (I think that exists, doesn’t it?). How cool would that be?
- VR 3D painting
Another exhibit was a VR 3D painting called Tilt Brush, where I got the opportunity to paint a 3D house and walk around it and splash colours around me. Man, This VR stuff brings out the inner kid in me!
- VR sight seeing
And finally, an interesting application was by a company called Realities.io that focuses on reconstructing famous monuments/sites around the world so that you can have your next trip in any place of your choice in VR. This one was quite interesting as I got to visit a cathedral in Germany, walk around, teleport to different rooms by picking up a picture of the room. There was a piano in one of the rooms and I ended up teleporting my self on top of the piano. I can tell you it was quite eery and I am with Steve Woznaik on this, It was a bit scary and dizzy at the same time :D.
The Google Visit
Apart from my trip to this Conference, I had a planned visit to Google Headquarters, to meet Pete Warden who is the Technical Lead for deep learning on mobile systems at Google. If you have read one of my previous blogs, I talked about a blog post by Pete that I came across while researching a topic. He is a Manchester alumni and so I decided to connect with him via LinkedIn and behold! I got this opportunity to visit Google. It was quite interesting to share my ideas with him and get invaluable insights of where the research of deep learning for mobile systems is heading. I really never thought I would visit Google but a little curiosity and networking goes a long way. A little tip for anyone interested. 🙂
Other Random Stuff:
Apart from all the geeky stuff, I thought I might get to see a movie celebrity. I didn’t have the time to visit Los Angeles but I unexpectedly met Groot at GTC.
Apart from this blog I think it would be worthwhile to write another short post on how I prepared for the conference; which includes topics like travel card, flights, hotels and business cards. The reason I find its important to share this information is because it was my first experience and I tried to prepare as much as I could before my trip so that I wouldn’t miss out anything. So, stay tuned for my next post.
Pictures from my trip..