2019 Retrospective Post

🙃 Can’t believe 2019 is over. Fun was had, life was lived. So let’s talk about it

Tech

Most of my work in 2019 was split between conversational technologies (bots and such), Flutter, some Machine Learning and finally some Blockchain stuff. So here is a quick recap of the year:

🤖 Chatbots

I spent a lot of time this year evaluating various technologies in the context of virtual conversational assistants. I still remain very passionately a believer in the chatbots space and even with the fervor around that space dying out with the whole “Bots are the new apps” idea not really happening.

As with a lot of domains of technology right now (VR, Blockchains, etc), the dying out of the initial mania is allowing some really interesting work proceed and evolve the space without a harsh spotlight and investors expecting 10x returns in 2 years.

The problems in that space (IMHO) right now really come down to the facts that:

  • Writing bot dialogue is hard and manually authored conversation trees can’t scale
  • Tools for authoring and previewing bot dialogues are poor
  • AI-based systems that can hold a true dynamic conversation aren’t really there yet and
  • There is very little exploration of the user-experience beyond text and animated gifs.

I still really believe that we will need virtual agents as proxies for ourselves and services we interact with as the digital world becomes more complex. It’ll be interesting to see if this space evolves or becomes the next IVR system that no-one loves

Flutter

Speaking of user-experience, I played a lot with Flutter this year and have already written about it in a previous post. There are 3 reasons I like Flutter:

  • It’s a cross-platform tool that gives me a lot of control over the graphics (unlike, say, React-Native)
  • Dart is enjoyable to code in, having co-opted the best parts of JavaScript/TypeScript and then gone beyond it
  • It’s pushing a culture of advanced UI’s that are simple to build which I felt kinda suffered when Flash died

The fact that Google commissioned GSkinner.com to create some amazing UIs that they gave away the code for others to use in their apps just underscores the kind of experiences they wish people would create with it. Here’s hoping Flutter gets more adopted in 2020

Machine Learning

I finally got to work on some Machine Learning based projects this year which was interesting. While I wouldn’t call myself competent in that domain yet, I feel I could get there in 2020 (hopefully). I am also very interested in the emergence of higher-level tools that make working with ML even easier, like Uber’s Ludwig and tools like RunwayML.

One particular area of ML that I got into this year was Affective Computing. I am fascinated by the idea of empathetic systems (whether they use AI or not) and exploring the area of Affective Computing gave me a lot to think about. Some of that I even shared at a couple of conferences this year, including the PHLAI conference.

Blockchains

I wish I had done more with Blockchains this year, but my efforts in that space this year were mostly limited to managing the Comcast Blockchain Guild, attending the local Ethereum meetup and the Philly BlockchainTech meetup and trying to keep up with the torrent of news coming out of the dev community. My personal goal is to do a little more hands-on coding in that space again in 2020 🤞

Conferences

I attended a few conferences this year which were very different from one another

  • Google IO was really inspirational with a lot of ideas to come back with. It is amazing to see how much Google has embraced AI and the kinds of experiences AI has enabled. I actually kept the Android sessions I attended this year to a minimum as I was getting a lot more interested in other spaces like AI, Flutter and Firebase. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the Chrome experiences on display at IO. Its amazing to see how far the web platform has come.
  • My favorite tech conference of the year had to be EyeO Festival. The conference explores the space at the intersection of art and technology and had some truly inspiring sessions with amazing speakers. You can check out my Twitter thread of some of the sessions I attended but I’d strongly encourage you to check out as many of the sessions as you can from Eyeo 2019 on Vimeo
  • I spoke at PHLAI on Affective AI. Had a lot of imposter-syndrome going on given that I was speaking at an AI/ML conference with some very high profile speakers
  • I was at a panel on Smart Contracts at Coinvention 2019 moderated by the amazing Thomas Jay Rush (of Quickblocks.io)
  • Attended the Blockchain and Other Networks conference by TTI Vanguard which was really interesting, especially with a format where every attendee could interrupt the speaker at any time if they had a question. Someone later recognized me there as “oh yeah, you are the one with all the questions” 😜

Books

Read a bunch of books, half-read even more. Life is too short for bad books 😉 Here is the list of the books that I did complete:

Personal

On a more personal front, 2019 was definitely a great year. I finally got engaged and bought a place in the city (Fishtown, Philadelphia). So far, doing this whole adult thing has been pretty good 😁

Author: Arpit Mathur

Arpit Mathur is a Principal Engineer at Comcast Labs where he is currently working on a variety of topics including Conversational Technologies, Affective Computing and Blockchains and decentralized services. Arpit has also worked extensively on Android and iOS applications, Virtual Reality apps as well as with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML and Ruby on Rails. He also spent a couple of years in the User Experience team as a Creative Technologist.

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