Activate conference 2018

Opensource has won! Now, what about AI?

Grant Ingersoll is on stage at the opening of Activate18 explaining the reasoning behind changing the name.

The revolution is won, opensource won, search as a concept to reckon with, they all won.

The times I come across a new search project where someone is pushing anything but opensource search is few and far between these days.

Since Search has taken a turn towards AI, a merge with that topic seems reasonable, not to say obvious. But AI in this context should probably be interpreted as AI to support good search results. At least if judging from the talks I attended. Interesting steps forward is expert systems and similar, none which was extensively discussed as of my knowledge. A kind of system we work with at Findwise. For instance, using NLP, machine learning and text analytics to improve a customer service.

Among the more interesting talks I attended was Doug Turnbulls talk on Neural Search Frontier. Some of the matrix-math threw me back to a ANN-course I took 10 years ago. Way before I ever learned any matrix maths. Now, way post remembering any matrix math-course I ever took, it’s equally confusing, possibly on a bit higher level. But he pointed out interesting aspects and show conceptually how Word2Vec-vectors work and won’t work. Simon Hughes talk “Vectors in search – Towards more semantic matching” is in the same area but more towards actually using it.

Machine Learning is finally mainstream

If we have a look at the overall distribution of talks, I think it’s safe to say that almost all talks touched on machine learning in some way. Most commonly using Learning to Rank and Word2Vec. None of these are new techniques (Our own Mickaël Delaunay wrote a nice blog-post about how to use LTR for personalization a couple of years ago. They have been covered before to some extent but this time around we see some proper, big scale implementations that utilizes the techniques. Bloomberg gave a really interesting presentation on what their evolution from hand tuned relevance to LTR over millions of queries have been like. Even if many talks were held on a theoretical/demo-level it is now very clear. It’s fully possible and feasible to build actual, useful and ROI-reasonable Machine Learning into your solutions.

As Trey Grainer pointed out, there are different generations of this conference. A couple of years ago Hadoop were everywhere. Before that everything was Solr cloud. This year not one talk-description referenced the Apache elephant (but migration to cloud was still referenced, albeit not in the topic). Probably not because big data has grown out of fashion, even though that point was kind of made, but rather that we have other ways of handling and manage it these days.

Don’t forget: shit in > shit out!

And of course, there were the mandatory share of how-we-handle-our-massive-data-talks. Most prominently presented by Slack, all developers favourite tool. They did show a MapReduce offline indexing pipeline that not only enabled them to handle their 100 billion documents, but also gave them an environment which was quick on its feet and super suitable for testing new stuff and experimenting. Something an environment that size usually completely blocks due to re-indexing times, fear of bogging down your search-machines and just general sluggishness.

Among all these super interesting technical solutions to our problems, it’s really easy to forget that loads of time still have to be spent getting all that good data into our systems. Doing the groundwork, building connectors and optimizing data analysis. It doesn’t make for so good talks though. At Findwise we ususally do that using our i3-framework which enables you to ingest, process, index and query your unstructured data in a nice framework.activate 2018 solr lucid opensource

I now look forward to doing the not so ground work using inspiration from loads of interesting solutions here at Activate.

Thanks so much for this year!

The presentations from the conference are available on YouTube in Lucidworks playlist for Activate18.

Author and event participant: Johan Persson Tingström, Findability Expert at Findwise

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