I have no clue how but somehow an event called Widspune or Women in Data Science, Pune got landed in my box. The date of the event was 23rd March 2019 (a Saturday) and happening at Persistent Systems (a somewhat nearby place) hence I evinced interest and replied to the mail and was accepted. While I thought it might take some time to reach and I wanted to be a bit early, I found out I was a bit too early. Registrations hadn’t even started yet. I bided my time (about 20-30 mins.) after which I was able to tick and go to the presentation hall. What I didn’t know at that time was that this was a pretty well-funded, well organized event. They had at least 30+ sponsors to sponsor different parts of the conference. We had 30 women who spoke about Data Science and from the event perspective, it was the largest technical event done by women for women. While I can’t say whether it’s true or not it still was a pretty good effort.
The Hearing problem
I dunno what happened on the event. For some reason, my hearing that day became much worse. You know how sometimes when you sometimes get up on one side of the bed and have either some sprain or something which you cannot explain. While it could have been for any number of reasons, it happened that, it was alright the day before and the day after but that day was able to hear only in patches hence just have no idea as to what happened.
The Mixer, the kid and the Cameras
Apart from the conference, what I was amazed at was with a probably 14-15 year old who had a mixing board, 4 tapes and 3 cameras which were looking at the presentation. I hope the below is helpful for the Debian Video team which does similar work for Debconf . The three cameras were used in slightly different ways and were manned by three people, one for each camera. The first camera and camera person’s job was to follow the presenter as they either stood or walked/used the stage to be as effective as they could be. The second camera was trained on the presentation itself all the time while the third one was trying to capture both the presenter and the presentation in the same frame as the presenter moved across the stage. While I dunno if the stream was live-streamed on the web either via youtube or any other video hosting platform, I do know that it was being live-streamed/thrown to another room as more people came to the event than antipated. I think they had something like 20-30 walk-ins at the last moment. From whatever little interaction I had with the kid, he didn’t seem to know much english (all the presentations were mostly in English with some smattering in Marathi, the local language) but he had a great instinct. He knew the three-four buttons to push and whenever the presenter would focus on the screen telling about some specific topic he would choose to focus on that, and then back to the presenter and sometimes having both the presenter and the presentation in the same shot. This way the presenations never got boring. I am sure that even though the mix could have been good enough, there might be somebody else who might look at the kids work and then make some additional adjustments hence the 4 cassettes where the feed ended up being . One would porbably be the mix that the kid was doing, while the other three were probably direct feed from the camersas, just so in case there is an issue with the mix or somewhere else, having multitude of raw data, they could edit and have a nice presentation. They were supposed to upload the whole presentation onto youtube but for some unknown reason hasn’t been done till date.
The National Anthem
This is a peculiar thing I have seen in few corporate-type presentations where the National anthem is being played. This has happened in last few years and I don’t really know why they do it. Do they suspect the nationalism of the people who they curated. Mrs. Sucheta Dhere proudly shared that they had carefully curated the audience as well as the speakers so there is diversity of views, age etc. Also if they wanted to be nationalistic, then why not ‘Vande Mataram‘ rather than Jan Gana Mana . I always Vande Mataram to be somehow much more beautiful and inclusive rather than ‘Jan Gan Mana’ . It also fits right into the feminist track as that was what it was trying to promote. The sad part was most people were lip-synching rather than actual singing the anthem.
While I will not be sharing all the presentations as it will make a blog post quite long, I will however share couple of notable presentations or at least my take on the presentations.
Democratizing AI, Dr. Rohini Srivastava, Microsoft (India)
The first talk of the day was given by Dr. Rohini Srivastava . In the beginning of the presentation. In the beginning of the presentation Dr. Srivastava. She claimed that the company was at the forefront of people privacy and such issues. Just that single statement was enough for me to tune out. While I don’t use MS-Windows extensively (almost 99% of my time is used using Debian Linux) the 1% gives me enough to tell how bad it is. In fact, both EU and Brazil have expressed concerns and in fact EU made a proper presentation as to how bad privacy is in Windows 10, esp. with the whole telemetry thing. In fact I had seen MS behavior from sidelines from way before, the whole Halloween documents stuff in 1998, the whole Wintel era and the various EU issues resulting out of that, the browser-bundling issue and last but not the least the whole browser issue for which they fined in 2013. So till date MS-Windows has less than a stellar record for privacy. To state the opposite means she would be lying more. While I did try to hear her, it didn’t help in any way.
Ujjayani Mitra Zee 5
When do you Love an Advertisement
Before I start about what she shared, I would suggest to check out Zee 5’s entry both on wikipedia and the site itself to see the kind of content it makes. While Zee had a certain brand and reputation for family content over a decade, decade and a half, this one is a bit of voyuerism in it, most of the movies and most of the shows. While Ujjayani’s presentation was different as it showed three, four different advertisements, the third one being cute and the fourth one being slightly sexual (condom or perfume ad if memory serves right). The cute ad was of a boy who gets up at night, dresses himself up, goes to the police station, says he is lost, the Policeman knows this is a ploy of the kid to enjoy Mercedes Benz and still he takes him for a joyride and hopefully drops him home. While logically, it doesn’t make sense it is cute. Vodafone did lots of cute zoo zoo and dog ads which also got them lot of attention, whether it resulted into sales or not might be a different question. Her main drive or idea was how Zee 5 was using analytics to find about specific individuals. While this might have given some pause to some of the audience, some audience might not have known, those of us who been using the web since close to inception, know exactly what she was talking about. It is the same tactics as FB has been doing, nothing different.
One of the saving graces of the meetup was the T-shirt which was nice, although they didn’t have one in my size. No worries though, it was a nice t-shirt.
Privacy, Surveillance Capitalism, Jobs death and no answers
While people did ask of questions about Privacy and the cutailment of jobs, they did fish but had no real answers. And while a part of me cries betrayal, a part of me also understands their plight. While one of the last sessions did share about biased AI data in one of the last sessions, there is still lot to be done in that regard. The fight in fact has just started. And if Google AI ethics board can fire or have hostile workspace for some of their best developers because they wanted to do the right thing on AI, then all the women as well as the men who do not enjoy the kind of civil and labor rights that a U.S. citizen enjoys can’t do much. Before ending, I have to share that I haven’t shared much creepiness that is going on AI right now. Just to give one more example, would be an article on scroll which gives lot of food for thought. The sad part in all this is that most users and consumers are unaware about what is going on 😦