The future of artificial intelligence may seem scary, with hypothetical horror stories about computers starting some kind of robot uprising, but so far it's in safe hands. Eight hundred forty-six pairs of safe hands to be exact.
A "Basic TrAINing" bot camp of 893 area high school students and 200 volunteer mentors Wednesday at the Hilton Anatole, set up by Capitol One and the computer science student organization, Major League Hacking, created a new Guinness world record for the largest AI programming lesson.
Guinness World Records official adjudicator Brittany Dunn announced that 846 of the students and volunteer mentors in attendance successfully coded a Markov Chain Bot, a program that can mimic human communication skills by studying the speech patterns of a person's Twitter page, creating a new record for the 2019 Guinness Book of World Records.
The students were rewarded for their efforts with an official Guinness World Record and a surprise appearance by Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who announced that after one season in the broadcast booth on Monday Night Football that he would come out of retirement and return to the Cowboys for his 16th season.
"Anytime you can give back to this community here in Dallas as a member of the Cowboys and encourage those kids to chase their dreams and keep working hard like they're doing today," Witten says, "it makes a lot of sense."
The bot camp challenged students to create a bot with a Markov chain, a library system with several states that moves between each state based on the probabilities of previous events. The students used the programming language Python to code their bots and chose a celebrity Twitter account such as @beyonce and @jasonwitten to run their bots on by mimicking a convention based on the patterns of their Tweets, says Capitol One's chief technical officer of financial services Arjuan Dugal.
"You write the code to call functions in this library and at the end of their day, they're pulling the Tweets, cleaning the data and they're actually invoking the chat bot," Dugal says. "I was really jealous. As I was telling them on stage, as a high school student, I didn't get to do stuff like this."
Students were broken into groups of four to five kids each, with a volunteer moderator to help them with their coding lesson. A lecturer stood at the front of the room and showed them each step of the process to create and code their AI bots line by line on large projection screens hanging throughout the hotel's convention room.
The process isn't as simple as telling a bot to read a celebrity's entire Twitter page and respond to a human communicator based on what it finds. It's a precise series of steps that requires them to tell their programs to filter out unnecessary and confusing characters like emojis and incorrect use of the language to create more realistic responses.
Dugal says the bot camp wasn't just an attempt to get into the record books. It's also an opportunity to show the students their true potential for learning something as seemingly complicated as creating an AI program with a computer language.
"My goal is that they leave here with two things," Dugal says. "One is many of the students here have never coded a single line of code and if you haven't, you always have this apprehension about, 'Is this coding thing really for a select few or can I really do it?' My goal is that they leave this room and they feel coding is not a difficult thing. They've got this. They can further their education and learn their own, learn at school and start doing really impactful things with code."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Learning basic coding skills and applying them to AI programming also ensures that both are put to better, more helpful uses in the future, Dugal says.
"The thing I'm even more excited about that I hope the students leave with is some inspiration in the power of artificial intelligence," he says. "As the students in the room become the future leaders of our communities, including Dallas-Fort Worth and elsewhere, hopefully they'll leave with the inspiration of not only can I code but I know how to apply this artificial intelligence thing and create some really interesting value for myself or for the organizations that I work for."
Getting in the Guinness book is also a great motivator for increasing students' awareness and confidence in creating AI for the future.
"The other really exciting part of today is that we now have officially got this event in The Guinness Book of World Records," Dugal says. "We crossed the 800 mark, which makes it the largest AI training program in history."