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Beirut AI Community Recap: May 2021
May with Beirut AI had its unique touch as it brought new opportunities for growth to the community.
AI For Accessibility Hackathon
The highlight of the month was the tenth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)! A day aimed at spreading awareness and getting everyone talking, thinking as well as learning about digital access/inclusion and people with different disabilities.
For that day, the Talal and Madiha Zein AUB-Innovation Park, in collaboration with Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture as well as Beirut Digital District have launched the AI for Accessibility Hackathon to shed light on the importance of enhancing digital accessibility, to share stories of inspiring communities, startups, as well as individuals who are contributing to the inclusion of people with disabilities, and most importantly, to give you the chance to know how you can take part in building a socially inclusive community today.
It is truly a pleasure to be hosting such events as we bring more unique individuals into a community that is all about growing and connecting.
We were honored to have Dr. Yousif Asfour, the Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at the American University of Beirut, present the Welcome Note of our event, as he introduced attendees to the importance of joining the hackathon, stating that “if you love AI and care about making this a more inclusive world, then this hackathon is for you!”
Following Dr. Asfour’s warm welcome, Jennison Asuncion, co-founder of GAAD and Head of Accessibility Engineering Evangelism at LinkedIn, shared his experience and motivation behind founding GAAD and thanked us for continuing the celebrations of the GAAD as part of helping fulfill its goal which is to “disrupt the culture of the product development cycle for both technology and digital products, in such a way that accessibility is a core requirement.”
Samer Chidiac, the Regional Director & resident Chief Innovation Officer of the Microsoft Technology Centers across the Middle East & Africa, followed with the accessibility commitment from Microsoft. He emphasized the importance of events like this hackathon where “accessibility innovators collaborate to make our world more inclusive” and that “it’s not necessarily that you are going to make huge innovations… any improvement you can make is affecting a life and giving the opportunity to people to do more… ”.
Mark Henry, the Data & AI Technical lead at Microsoft, further highlighted the hackathon vision as well as the opportunity Microsoft is providing for innovators to thrive. He also shared the inspiring story of Sakib Shiekh who used Microsoft’s technology to impact his life and other visually impaired people through the “Seeing AI” app he built.
Anirban Lahiri, an ICT Access Research specialist in Accessibility and Assistive Technology at Mada Assistive Technology center, introduced us to Mada and their focus on commitment to the education sector as well as the culture and community sector. He also highlighted the role of Mada’s innovation program in the Arab region as they “wanted to create a mechanism that would encourage innovators to create new solutions”.
Following Anirban’s talk, Christophe Zoghbi, the founder & CEO of Zaka and Beirut AI, highlighted the efforts of both Beirut AI and Zaka in democratizing AI. He also shared with us some insights about the AI Ready Academy as it “introduces AI to university students all over MENA and aims to equip them with hands-on industry skills in artificial intelligence”. With that emphasis on the impact of the education provided by Beirut AI and Zaka on the community, he added that they are always looking forward to supporting their communities with technical expertise.
Dr. Hazem Hajj, an associate professor at the American University of Beirut and an AI Leader, gave us a welcome note on behalf of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture as well as some insights on both the educational and research opportunities in artificial intelligence at AUB as well as the investment in Entrepreneurship and Startups in technology and AI. He also encouraged the audience to consider career options in AI as they are “very rewarding but require a lot of dedication and resilience”.
Up next was Ralph Khairallah, the Community Growth Manager representing BDD, who emphasized the core role of technology in the mission of Beirut Digital District and the importance of “using technology and innovation to solve such challenges as we are proud to be part of the accessibility hackathon”.
This was followed by the orientation and program kick-off presentation as Maha Zouwayhed, the Business Development Manager at the office of Innovation and Transformation, and Dr. Mona Itani, the Coordinator of the Entrepreneurship Initiative and senior instructor of Innovation Entrepreneurship, stated the aim of the hackathon in rallying talents and fostering the regional development of the innovative entrepreneurship community related to AI. They further highlighted the two tracks participants can work on during the hackathon, Assistive technology and Physical Aid, and their impact on society. They wrapped up valuable tips and guidelines for the hackathon participants.
Up next was the accessibility by design talk where Saira Sayed, the Business Development Director for partnerships at Inclusive, and Saba Aamir, the frontend developer and technology projects lead at Inclusive, introduced Inclusive: an app that connects people with disabilities to jobs, events, and opportunities. They emphasized the fact that “accessibility is an ongoing process” and the importance of “involving people of determination in the process of making the environment, whether online or offline, accessible”.
The last stop was the discussion panel about AI for accessibility and the role of startups where Roberto Croci, the Managing director of Microsoft for Startups in the Middle East and Africa, introduced us to Mohammad Kilani, the Co-Founder of Mind Rockets, Nandu Jith, the Founder & CEO of Nexart, and Jose Rubinger Filho, CCO & Co-Founder of Key2Enable, who shared the inspiration behind building their startups while demonstrating the social impact of entrepreneurship.
Beirut AI Community
Here’s a little glimpse at what Beirut AI Community members are talking about on the Mighty Networks Platform!
We are always open to exploring new learning topics as well as revisiting concepts as needed, and it all starts with the incentive to contribute. Experts are also more than happy to answer our members’ inquiries. It is such interactions that make our community a place filled with opportunities for growth.
The journey continues as we move forward, and there is a lot awaiting everyone at Beirut AI. It’s never late to join our membership program and get to be part of a vibrant atmosphere of learning as well as connecting.
University Workshops Highlights: Intro to AI
It is always exciting to introduce students to the world of AI. Anis Ismail shared his knowledge and insights through our introductory course to artificial intelligence, this May, with students from the University of Balamand. Beirut AI will keep on with its mission of introducing AI to our community and the excitement is always present.
In the aim of better empowering university students with AI, we gathered with our university ambassadors to further discuss the importance of their roles as well as upcoming Beirut AI events.
Our ambassadors are an integral part of our mission and serve the purpose of our organization. Their role is to connect with our community in order to communicate our mission, share our events, and raise awareness about the importance of AI’s role and technology in Lebanon.
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