Computers as Friends: Cognitive Computing Hackathon held in St. Petersburg

The cognitive computing hackathon challenged university students across St. Petersburg to build creative and modern software that can work more efficiently than the human brain.

The three-day event was organized by the Centre for Technological Foresight and the International Laboratory "Information Science and Semantic Technologies" at ITMO University, in partnership with the "Polytechnic" Business incubator at Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University and IBM.

Hackathon participants had to build software or hardware related to cognitive computing on cloud platforms such as IBM Bluemix, IBM Watson, IBM Watson Developer C, that use language and technical analysis and data visualization tools from the internet. The pilot projects were evaluated by experts from IBM.

"Through such an event more people can appreciate the possibilities of IBM cloud platforms. In addition, the company receives useful reviews and can improve their products according to developer’s requests. Hackathons also help to train young talented programmers and give them a space to learn from one another’s experience", commented Soheel Chughtai, IBM Company Manager, who organised and lectured at the hackathon.

Cognitive computing applies to software and hardware that mimic the way the human brain works, only much faster and more efficiently. The cognitive computation is about processing large amounts of data, which a typical human being would take much longer to analyze and structure.

Imported data may be from public sources, such as social media or the Internet. Based on this information, the iGeneration team from Polytechnic University developed an application to compare goods, hotels, places, basically anything that a user might want to choose. On the basis of comments on twitter and various websites, the application makes a comparison of the various products. It also uses the “Tone Analyzer” available on the Watson platform to take into account the emotions in the various texts it analyzes.

ITMO University students from the OMTI team came up with an idea that replaces the need for people to work in customer service call centres. The machine responds to online customer enquiries for example, when their Wi-Fi is not working, exactly the same way a customer service operator would. If the program is unable to assist the user, a human voice is still available as backup.

The team “Four People” from St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University "LETI" has created a prototype of an "Emotional Diary". You can divulge your daily worries or tell your life story and it will analyse your voice and help you understand your emotional state: whether you are sad or happy, disgusted or full of joy?

SigmaAlpha team from the Peter the Great Polytechnic University found a way to avoid remembering the code for your fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, instead they have proposed that fruit and vegetable scales in supermarkets should be equipped with a camera that recognizes the item and automatically determines its cost.

Another clever idea came from the ITMO Cats team from ITMO University who came up with a system that automatically checks essays and articles. They have developed an application for open educational platform ЕdX, which you can use to improve the quality of various literary texts, essays. Essentially the program prompts the user to fix parts of the text if what they have written is too negative and would therefore lead the reviewer to be extremely subjective. To achieve this they are using the Watson "Tone Analyzer". But before that, the author will have to go through cognitive training, using certain games that will help him get rid of negative emotions and correct errors. According to the developers, these types of cognitive training are explored at the Chair of Computer Educational Technologies.

Other hackathon participants developed applications to improve safety for construction work, conducting sociological surveys and others. The jury evaluated the projects on three criteria: uniqueness, completeness of the prototype, the number of IBM services used. In the end the winning teams were ITMO Cats, Four People and SigmaAlpha.

"There is nothing stopping us from further developing our project, given that the source code for EdX is open. We made our prototype in 10 hours, we worked on our idea during the first day of the hackathon. We had difficulty with the Watson platform, it wasn’t working properly, and we even found a few bugs. But Watson is a new technology, which explains some of the shortcomings," - said the ITMO Cats team captain, Dmitry Kopylov, the head of multimedia technologies lab DLC.

Hackathon participants received certificates of completion and invaluable experience inventing software products in cognitive computing.

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