One of the largest tech events in the world, Google I/O, recently concluded on the 8th of May, with the tech community left in collective excitement at the news of Google’s latest plans and launches. In Sri Lanka, Google I/O Extended completed its 3rd iteration at the SLECC, organised by Dialog Ideamart.
With over 3000 people in attendance, the conference was a thoroughly engaging event for the tech community in Sri Lanka, with talks and Q&As with icons in the tech and the wider Sri Lankan business and entertainment community.
The event had stalls featuring a variety of IoT related devices, entertainment acts, and the odd startup entrepreneur handing out business cards, but the primary focus was on the fascinating array of guest speakers, and what Google was about to showcase that day.
It was Roshanth Gardiarachrachi, Senior Manager of Ideamart, that started proceedings by mentioning how they had around 10,000 applicants wanting to attend the conference, and ultimately having to narrow it down to 3500 was all down to who they believed would take the most out of the night. After giving the audience an intro on Ideamart and its plans, he concluded by announcing that developers can expect an Android creation toolkit sometime in the near future.
Before the guest speakers took to the stage, Prash Balakrishnan, Google Country Marketing Consultant, praised Sri Lanka’s startup scene, and stated that he believed that the vision and potential of the Sri Lankan tech industry had yet to truly realised. After touting the importance of more startups, Prash left the stage as the first of many guest speakers started presenting on a range of diverse and trending topics.
Leadership, Creating Your Own Legacy, and Women In Tech
First up was Dr Rainer Deutschmann, COO of Dialog Axiata, with a talk that focused on artificial intelligence. Dr Rainer spoke about Google and its decision to take an AI-first approach in all their recent developments, but warned that whilst the potential for AI is huge, it needs to be used responsibly, citing an example of Uber’s accident with its autonomous car service. Dr Rainer touched upon ICO’s, about Google beating Intel in the development of supercomputers, and that if companies fail to evolve and adapt, their downfall is inevitable, as he mentioned the example of Kodak and its failure to innovate. In conclusion, he stated that the key for startups is building a quality product or service rather than believing the ability to hire more people is necessarily a sign of success, giving the example of Whatsapp who had only 35 staff members when Facebook decided to acquire for a staggering $19 billion.
Following this, Sri Lankan cricketing icon Kumar Sangakkara, came up on stage to talk about leadership and harnessing skills to build a more collaborative society. He drew parallels to his time as an international cricket captain, and how those skills could be applied to work, in order to create a more empathetic society. Sangakkara made it clear that despite our enormous potential and skills, without leadership and the ability to work together, only a minor percentage of our abilities will only eventuate.
Peter D’Almeida, Managing Director and Chief Executive of N-Able then took to the stage. His talk focused on how the mindset of tech workers who dream of working for the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Apple, as if technology alone can be used for change; citing an example of Arunachalam Muruganantham aka The Padman who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine. He said that there is far greater potential for change in the work you do than being a footnote of a global company.
Next up was Ideamart Senior Executive, Sammani Kusaladharma, who addressed the key issue of gender imbalance and lack of diversity in the tech industry. Sammani broke down the historical contributions of women in tech; such as Ada Lovelace, who designed what could be identified as the first ever computer algorithm, and women’s contribution to GDP and other economic indicators, outlining the importance of women in the workforce. To wrap things up, Sammani provided 3 tips for women looking to progress:
- Do more than white-collar jobs
- Engage and collaborate
- Be the pro and just go for it
Next up, Arimac, one of Sri Lanka’s most innovative companies, had its CEO, Chamira Prasad Jayasinghe, introduce its latest products. Starting with Sri Lanka’s first humanoid robot named Diyazen, following up with advancements in its natural language AI platform Sasrutha, and concluding with its online games platform Mini Games. Before concluding his presentation, Chamira touched on the topic of the brain drain and pushed for Sri Lankans who are educated locally to ensure that their skills are used to disrupt our ecosystem rather than others, and to build products with global reach.
With about half an hour to go before the live stream began, The Google I/O Extended Awards 2018 for Sri Lanka recognised some of Sri Lanka’s leading tech startups and identities.
After its conclusion, the event moved to the most anticipated part of the night as the audience was shifted to the live stream from Mountain View, California as Google CEO Sundar Pichai took to the stage for his keynote.
Google Flips The Script
Google came out all guns firing for Google I/O, and some of the major announcements were:
- Android P – A radical change to the Android environment with new gestures and the ability to keep a detailed track of your phone usage. It’s set to be the biggest step up the OS has seen in awhile.
- Google Duplex – A ground-breaking advancement in conversational AI, as Sundar Pichai presented the crowd with a conversation of booking an appointment at a hair salon, only for the crowd to later realise that the person on the other end of the line was actually a voice assistant. It caused some concern too, and Google have recently clarified that Duplex will identify itself as an artificial voice prior to a conversation.
- Google Assistant – A new set of Google Assistant voices are set to be launched, including the voice (parts of) musician John Legend. Sadly we will have to keeping waiting for a Morgan Freeman voice.
- Smart Displays – Google’s answer to Amazon Echo, allowing users to control their visual experience with voice.
- Smart Compose for Gmail – If you spend countless hours of time typing emails and somewhat generic sentences, well Google is up to introduce a more advanced form of autocomplete where its AI will help you complete full sentences. It’s still not going to type a whole email for you, but it can save you countless keystrokes and potentially slow your chance of being diagnosed with RSI.
- Google News – A decision to enhance how Google delivers readers news, by utilising AI to provide a more customised and personalised experience.
- Street View – Augmented reality had to be featured, and whilst it was nothing quite jaw-dropping, with the new feature users will be able to point their camera to any part of the road and have it give you directions, like a POV version of Google Maps.
There were also other interesting launches such as Google Lens being able to copy real-world text and users being able to store that text on their phones, updates to Google Photos with new powerful editing features, and new additions to Google Maps to integrate more social elements to its users.
Google’s Role And Capping Off
After the live stream, the second part of Google I/O Extended 2018 focus was on two of the biggest buzzwords in tech which is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, as Google representatives showcased how Google is continually trying to revolutionise our daily experiences using the latest breakthroughs in these areas.
The sessions were as follows:
- Lim Shang Yi, Google Developer Expert, on building conversational applications with Google.
- Keshan Sodimana, Google Engineering Consultant, on the role artificial intelligence can play in the production of music
- Richa Singh, Architect, Google Crowdsource, on a more inclusive internet for non-English speakers
- Cat Allman, Program Manager for Google’s Open Source Outreach, covered base on Google’s investment in Open Source projects
After a long, engaging and eventful night, a vote of thanks was given to the organisers by Kasun Withanarachchi, Specialist, Ideamart Services to bring about a conclusion to the near 12-hour long event.
How Google goes about implementing these new features is what remains to be seen, but it’s left the tech industry buzzing, both astounded and contemplate of the role technology will play in our near future.
For the audience, they were left inspired, fascinated and in awe. There is no doubt the discussions that took place during the event will have maximised the creativity of many a budding startup entrepreneur that was in attendance, and that can only be a good thing for our startup ecosystem.
Cover Image Courtesy: bgr.com