Onyeama Osuagwu invited to, attends Google I/O
Ashish Valentine, ECE ILLINOIS
- Google I/O is a yearly conference showing off the latest in Google's technological developments that took place June 25-26 in at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
- Doctoral student Onyeama Osuagwu was invited by a Google recruiter to attend the event absolutely free of charge, and the donor-supported ECE annual fund paid for his travel.
- Significant themes of the event this year were a focus on wearable technology such as Google Glass and smartwatches, and a more unified Android experience across all devices.
Welcome to Google I/O, a yearly conference showing off the latest in Google’s technological developments that took place June 25-26 in at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
Among the throngs at the conference, ECE ILLINOIS doctoral student Onyeama Osuagwu was having the time of his life, his face in a wide smile and his arms outstretched as he did more squat thrusts than he thought possible in a fitness competition to win a Google Glass.
Five and a half hours later, Onyeama hadn't even broken a sweat as his hands clenched around his prize and triumph glowed in his eyes. He proceeded to continue his day at the conference, learning about the latest in Android development and listening to keynote speakers like futurist and Google Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil.
The main focus of Osuagwu’s work is on machine learning and in attempting to understand and recreate facets of life in artificial systems. Osuagwu works with Professor Stephen E Levinson at the Language Acquisition and Robotics Lab, and with Associate Professor Lynford L Goddard on research in nanophotonics and optics.
“We draw inspiration for our models from biological systems,” Osuagwu said. “At the neuroscience level, we’re drawing from the human brain to assemble rudimentary artificial neural networks. At this stage, it’s very nascent, and the level of cognition that most of the machines operate at are akin to infants, but the tech is getting more powerful by the day.”
Before he had even thought about going to the conference, Osuagwu found himself discussing his research and career interests with a recruiter from Google over phone and email, and talked with her at length about how much he admired the company and how it had the resources and the drive to push search and other concepts to the cutting edge.
A few weeks later, seemingly out of the blue, Osuagwu found an e-mail waiting in his inbox from the recruiter telling him that she’d managed to swing him a free ticket to Google I/O, which by then was already sold out. ECE ILLINOIS paid for his travel with donations from its annual fund.
“I don’t know what impressed the recruiter so much,” Osuagwu said. “We just discussed my work and I told her how much I admired Google’s search and cloud developments, and how it was really pushing into areas other companies hadn’t yet explored.”
Osuagwu remains modest about his performance, but holds nothing back when describing the wonders of the conference.
“Everywhere you looked, Google and its partner companies were showing off their latest tech at the booths,” Osuagwu said. “A significant theme this year was wearable technology, such as smartwatches, Google Glass, and other similar devices.”
Osuagwu was amazed most at one device called Google Cardboard.
“It functions similarly to the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that fits over viewers’ eyes and immerses them in a three-dimensional environment,” Osuagwu said. “Unlike the Oculus Rift, however, which costs hundreds of dollars and must be connected to a computer, Google cardboard literally is composed of cardboard, magnets, and various optics, and runs 3-D Android apps. I was captivated by how virtual reality environments can be achieved with such barebones ingredients.”
Osuagwu also had the opportunity to see Kurzweil speak on examining the human brain and trying to apply its processes to build artificial minds that go beyond implementing sets of instructions and share the human capacity for learning and growing.
“Kurzweil discussed research he was working on at Google, which tied in exactly with what I’m pursuing at Illinois,” Osuagwu said. “He discussed at length concepts like pattern recognition and algorithm-related processes that could be used to build machine intelligence. Kurzweil has been researching my subject area longer than I’ve been alive, and it was great to see someone else working towards the same goal and discussing how rudimentary technology such as Apple’s Siri are just baby steps on the way to machines that can function at amazingly high levels of cognition.”
The conference was an incredible experience, and, as Osuagwu noted, quite difficult to get into normally.
“It’s a little silly to admit, but I hadn’t realized how hard it was to get into Google I/O until I got the ticket,” Osuagwu said, chuckling. “I looked online afterwards and the tickets people were reselling cost a pretty penny. I still don’t know why Google wanted me to go, but it was truly an amazing experience and I’d love to go again.”