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Artificial intelligence hackathon

After months of exploring artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, it was time for nine Slalom teams to present their AI creations to clients, peers, and a panel of judges—in hopes of taking home the gold.

 

Improving the world with AI

“This is one of my proudest moments at Slalom,” said CEO Brad Jackson, in front of a crowd of Slalom employees and clients at the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown Chicago.

The room had just seen demos of a facial-recognition drone that can find missing children, a food-ordering tool that helps restaurants dramatically reduce food waste, a platform that helps fight sex trafficking, and six other never-before-seen AI solutions.

“The whole idea behind our project was ‘How can AI make the world a better place?’” said Tristan Nyyssela, from the facial recognition drone team. “The most important thing we could think of was to save people from harm.”

Tackling large problems with new solutions

Twenty-three Slalom teams from across the U.S. and Canada spent six months creating solutions using AI technologies. The teams could choose from five AI platforms to build their solutions: Amazon AI, Azure Cognitive Services, Google Cloud Machine Learning Platform, IBM Watson, and Salesforce Einstein.

“Every day we help organizations leverage technology to make their businesses run more efficiently, effectively, and profitably,” said Gretchen Peri, from the team that created a solution to help fight sex trafficking. “We wanted to do the same thing for agencies with very small teams trying to solve very large social problems. Our goal was to use technology to disrupt the sex trafficking market and help prevent the exploitation of human beings.”

The championship

Nine teams made the championship round and met in Chicago to present their solutions to peers, partners, clients, and a panel of judges: six Slalom executives, including CEO Brad Jackson. The judges evaluated the teams based on innovation and creativity, technical difficulty, and applicability to business objectives.

The teams huddled together before the presentations began, excited—and a bit jittery—to share what they’d been working on for months.

“Whether we win or not, we’ll be satisfied and proud of what we created,” said Daniel Kong, from the team that created a searchable video platform.

In front of 150 people, the teams presented a wide range of solutions—some that save time and money, others that can potentially save lives. They were:

  • Magic Mirror (Azure Cognitive Services): A mirror that relieves office managers from menial tasks by being able to answer questions like, “Is Dan in the office today?” and “Are we out of Cheez-Its?”

  • Project Blue Cat (Google Cloud Machine Learning): A platform that scrapes classified ad sites for sex trafficking trends and information to help law enforcement find traffickers and rescue victims

  • Ditto (Azure Cognitive Services): An online shopping assistant that helps users decorate their rooms with furniture that matches their exact style

  • Reccomundo (Azure Cognitive Services): A tool that predicts and manages alcohol sales reps’ orders to help them sell more efficiently

  • VidGuru (Azure Cognitive Services): A platform that automatically transcribes videos, enabling users to find the exact information or moment in the video they’re looking for

  • Lexy:SAM (Amazon AI): A virtual solution owner that helps speed up project delivery

  • Polly (Azure Cognitive Services): A facial recognition drone that can find missing persons (think: children, hikers, and suspects)

  • SecuritAI (Amazon AI and Google Cloud Machine Learning): A solution that monitors for security threats at the application layer, flags suspicious requests, and prevents malicious activity

  • Skynet Food Genie (Amazon AI): A food-ordering tool that helps restaurants order only the food they need, decreasing food waste and saving money

“Watching the other finalists present their solutions made me see that Slalom cares about so much more than just business,” said Melissa Bareham, an intern out of Toronto who came up with the concept for Ditto and put the Ditto team together. “Each team put their heads and hearts into creating a solution to a problem they genuinely care about.”

A tough decision

The judges met, debated over which team should win, debated some more, and then came to a consensus: that they couldn’t come to a consensus. First place was a tie.

“You took on big, big visions,” Jackson said to all nine participants before announcing the winners. “I didn’t know what to expect, but every one of you chose something that can make a big difference in people’s lives.”

The gold went to Project Blue Cat, for the platform that helps fight sex trafficking, and Polly, for the facial-recognition drone.

“We were honestly shocked,” said Nyyssela. “We thought we had a good idea, but the class and caliber of the solutions was so impressive. It felt great to have our idea and the work we put into it validated.”

“Now the real work begins”

After the presentations, teams chatted with clients, peers, executives, and each other, sharing ideas about ways to use the solutions to make big impacts on organizations, communities, and the world.

“Our team sat together on the rooftop patio and talked about our journey coming together as a team, building something truly impactful,” said Peri. “We talked about how it was now up to us to decide the future of our idea, now that the competition was over. And we all agreed, right then and there, that we were committed to moving this forward. Now the real work begins.”

The Project Blue Cat team is meeting with Seattle’s King County Prosecuting Attorney, Seattle Against Slavery, and several law enforcement officials to get further feedback on the proof of concept and help the team refine its solution.

“When we showed our proof of concept to one of the prosecutors before the championship, he said, ‘What you're showing me right now is six months of detective work. That adds so much capacity for us.’ Now it’s time to make it a reality for them,” added Peri.

Team Polly is also working on refining its solution and “getting it into the hands of people who need it,” said Nyyssela.

With all the uncertainty and fear around artificial intelligence, these nine teams proved how AI can help make the world a more efficient, less wasteful, and safer place.

As Nyyssela said, “It was a great opportunity to show what AI can do to save lives and help—not hurt—humanity.”

            

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