Programmers Are Not The Only Smart Ones Alive

Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash

Is it possible to enter the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for someone with zero experience with coding?

Words like AI, Machine Learning or Data Science have always made me a little ‘uneasy’. I know that these fields of science are very hot at the moment, and I have been getting news about the wonderful things that entrepreneurs and scientists hope to achieve and are already achieving, with the help of Big Data and the power of AI.

I have always wondered…HOW though? 

That ‘uneasy’ feeling that I mentioned earlier is mainly because of how little I know about coding or programming. As a result, I could never see myself to be a part of this new and emerging field of AI.

For the longest of times my train of thoughts usually ran somewhere along the lines of the following:

Whoah, this AI thing is huge and so exciting!
Darn it, I don’t know jack shit about coding!
Wish I studied computer science instead of mechanical engineering.

As you can see, I was kind of hopeless about this whole ‘learning about AI’ thing.

But one fine morning, while driving to work and listening to a podcast, EVERYTHING changed and I had an epiphany.  

The podcast that I was listening to is called ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’.  In the podcast, host – Tim Ferriss (4x best-selling author, entrepreneur & venture capitalist) – talks to someone famous and with a formidable reputation, from various fields in every episode.

That morning, I was listening to an episode where the guest of the show was someone called – Kevin Kelly. I had never heard about this guy before. Turns out that Kevin is one of the most renowned futurists in the USA. I was surprised to find out that Kevin is also the co-founder of a magazine publication – ‘Wired Magazine’ – which I had been reading and fascinated with for years!

In the podcast, Kevin talks about how some of the biggest companies in the world and especially in Silicon Valley are going ‘all-out’ on the technologies related to AI. He mentions a few technological transitions that he thinks are inevitable; one of them being – ‘Cognyfying’ – which basically means the addition of AI to most in not all our current technologies.

“I predict that the formula for the next 10,000 startups is that you take something and you add AI to it. We’re going to repeat that by one million times, and it’s going to be huge.” 

Kevin Kelly; author of ‘The Inevitable’ & senior maverick of Wired Magazine

Till that point in the podcast, I wasn’t mesmerized or something, because I kind of knew how big AI is right now; AI is even a buzzword these days. But what truly fascinated me were the responses that Kevin gave to some of Tim’s ‘well-thought’ and crucial questions.

At one point, Tim and Kevin started talking about how there are no ‘AI or VR ‘experts in the world. According to Kevin:

AI is coming in a big way, VR (virtual reality) is coming. The particulars of how it arrives, who owns it, how it’s structured – those are not inevitable, those are not predictable. They make a lot of difference to us. So we have a lot of choice in this thing. But one of the things I want to emphasize is that right now, basically, there are no VR experts. It’s completely open. Really, we (collectively) humans have no idea how VR is going to work, what content will really work best in VR, what the necessary amount of equipment will be, what that consumer breakthrough version will be.

Tim Ferris Show Transcripts: Kevin Kelly; AI, Virtual Reality and The Inevitable

At this point, Tim requests him to give advice to those people listening to the podcast who were interested to enter the field of AI or VR but had no considerable amount of skills those fields, to begin with.

My eyes were now wide open, and I was completely stoked and excited to find out what Kevin has to say about what Tim had just asked. It was almost like Kevin and Tim knew exactly what I was wondering about in my life. Part of my excitement was because I had always thought that it is really not possible to be part of the AI revolution without a degree in computer science and a specialization in AI. But Kevin Kelly – the digital prophet – apparently thought otherwise. Let’s find out what Kevin thinks.

Tim Ferriss: So let’s say someone listening said, you know what? I’ve read about VR; this is really exciting. I’m tired of my comparative literature major. I’d like to switch gears and really immerse myself.

What would you suggest they do? If they seemed earnest, intelligent, they were committed, they were like I want to become a VR expert or AI, you can take your pick.

Kevin Kelly: Yeah. There was a guy, Kent Bye, who runs the Voices of VR podcast. Two years ago, he quit his job and has interviewed 400, he’s done 400 interviews of almost every person working in VR. That’s his job now is he just does interviews of the voices of people working in VR. He’s doing the journalistic side. I would say it’s very easy, which is you purchase some gear and you start making VR; you actually do it. You buy or you get a pair of Google VR, Cardboard, which you can get for free. Use your phone and start making VR.

You’ll learn more about it than reading about it, than working, whatever it is. Try to make a VR experience. Make something for five minutes. The issues are incredible. There’s lighting issues, there’s continuity issues. We don’t even have a vocabulary for editing. Like in cinema we have syntax of what a cut is.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Kevin Kelly: How do you do a jump, a dissolve.

Tim Ferriss: A panning shot of X, Y, and Z.

Kevin Kelly: We don’t have any of that. None of it really works in VR. It doesn’t mean the same thing. So someone has to invent all of those. The interface, the mouse; there is no mouse for VR. There are people who have invented it, but there is nothing that has worked like Windows and the mouse that Engelbart made. So there is so much that has to be invented and that somebody who just decides that they’re going to work at this every day or every day on weekends or whatever it is, can make a huge advance. I think you’ll need to do it because you love it. Because this is not economics; we’re talking about investing into mastery.

– Tim Ferris Show Transcripts: Kevin Kelly; AI, Virtual Reality and The Inevitable

Listening to one of the most respected human beings in the tech world say that there are still many new things to be discovered, was truly eye-opening for me. However, the thing that baffled me the most was that nowhere in his responses did Kevin say that you needed a degree or specialization to be part of the AI or VR revolution. What Kevin said was:

“We’re talking about investing into MASTERY

Mastery was the word he used. And this made me realize that in order to have mastery in the field of AI, I don’t necessarily have to begin with getting a college degree in computer science that costs a fortune. What Kevin emphasized was on getting hands-on experience and doing AI or VR related things physically.

I figured that in the past when I used to think that getting a college degree is crucial to enter the field of AI – was just an excuse that I used to NEVER really start.

The Hunt For The ‘DOERS’

After my big realization, I naturally started doing what anybody does these days to ‘find their way’ – google the hell out of it!

I started reading blogs about people who were working with AI, watching videos on ‘AI experts’ on YouTube. The best thing was that it didn’t feel like some sort of responsibility or chore to learn about AI. I really enjoyed it. Because ever since I was a little boy I had always been fascinated by how science can help achieve amazing things for humanity. And the more I learned about AI, the more I realized its role in the progress of humankind and our planet.

One day, while riding a train on a 30+ hours long journey from Orlando, Florida to Niagra Falls, New York, I found someone very inspiring on the internet. His name is Daniel Bourke. Daniel is a Machine Learning Engineer who works for Max Kelsen – which is one of Australia’s fastest growing business according to The Australian Financial Review. 

What inspired me about Daniel, was his story of entering the world of AI and fulfilling his dreams without any prior experience in coding or even a college degree in computer science. I read one of his blogs on Medium, in which he practically laid out his entire journey of how he ended up working in the AI industry by ‘mastering’ his skills with the help of a few online courses, making a portfolio of his work and a bunch of free information on the internet.

There’s so much happening in the field it can be daunting to get started. Too many options lead to no options. Ignore this. Start wherever interests you most and follow it. If it leads to a dead end, great, you’ve figured out what you’re not interested in. Retrace your steps and take the other fork in the road instead.Computers are smart but they still can’t learn on their own. They need your help.

I want to learn Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, where do I start by Daniel Bourke

Reading about Daniel was the final thing that I needed in order to ‘pull the trigger’; be a ‘doer’ and start some AI stuff. I went over most of the contents on his blog and followed the works of some other inspiring AI experts that he mentions. This journey through the rabbit hole enabled me to acquire some really good information on what courses are available online to help anyone gain a good understanding of AI, and even help curate an impressive portfolio of work.

I was very excited to find out that there are some amazing courses that are available online, some free and some aren’t, but none of them require you to dedicate years of your life and cost a fortune.

Baby Steps

My first concern was…well the same concern that I always had; I was nervous by not having any basic programming skills. Luckily Daniel addressed this issue on his blog, as he too didn’t have any prior programming skills. He made a list of courses that he took.

Treehouse — Introduction to Python
Udacity — Deep Learning & AI Nanodegree
Coursera — Deep Learning by Andrew Ng — Part 1, soon to be Part 2 

– I want to learn Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, where do I start by Daniel Bourke

But this wasn’t enough for me and so I reached out to him and asked if indeed, it is possible for me – with zero programming skills – to start learning how AI works. The easiest way to get that information from him – I figured – was by leaving a comment on the blog that he posted on Medium. It worked and I got an informative and positive response from Daniel:

Me: Thanks a lot for sharing this Daniel Bourke 🙂
I have been contemplating to dive into the world of AI but had absolutely no idea where to start.
With a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I have a good knowledge of Math & Physics, but ZERO skills in programming.
After reading your blogs, I now know that it’s possible, even with no prior skills in programming.
I never thought that it’s actually possible to start working on AI, with just a basic understanding of Python. I always thought that only people with years of experience in programming with a Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degree in programming are fit to work on AI.
Would you recommend that I look for a beginner’s course in Python? Or should I try to look for a course in Python that is specifically made for people that are interested in learning AI? 

Daniel: Thanks Saadman!
If you’re just starting out with Python, a beginners course wouldn’t hurt. Python is so capable of many things it can be good to get some foundations sorted.
But if you can find something which does a beginners introduction with a theme of AI/Machine Learning, that would be even better.
All the best my friend!

My conversation with Daniel on Medium

Just like Daniel said, I started looking for a course that was designed for beginners but with a theme of AI. I found one that stood out and grabbed my attention. The course that I finally enrolled in is called – AI Programming with Python Nanodegree. The main reason why I chose this particular course was mainly due to its focus on basic python programming targetted for people who are interested in AI. This was exactly what I needed!

The list below contains the TOP 5 online AI courses of 2018 according to Computer Business Review

  1. Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree at Udacity, by Kaggle & Amazon Web Services
  2. Machine Learning, Stanford University
  3. Deep Learning Specialization, NVIDIA
  4. IBM Open Badge Programme, IBM Skills Gateway
  5. Artificial Intelligence MicroMasters, Columbia University

The course that I enrolled in is number 1 on the list (not bragging…maybe a little!). And just like that, I conquered my fears of programming and took the first and perhaps the most important step to embark on a journey to the center of the AI revolution.

The image below is a screenshot of the course dashboard, and as you can see in starts on Dec 11, which is 2 days from today! I am super excited to start this journey. If I didn’t keep on searching for people that are as excited about the prospects of AI as me, then probably I would still be just reading the news about all the cool stuff happening in the field of AI with awe and despair for not being a part of it.

I wouldn’t say that I am following my passion; that is a very vague concept. AI was never something that I was passionate about. Instead, I am following my curiosities and it is this curiosity that led me to where I am today. Let’s see where it takes me in the future.  

My Udacity Course Dashboard

Thanks for Reading 🙂

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