Jason Leith - Amazon Web Services - CEO

TechConnect Appoints Jason Leith as CEO

Jason Leith - Amazon Web Services - CEO

Amazon Web Services enterprise accounts manager, Jason Leith, to spearhead growth for Queensland company TechConnect IT Solutions

TechConnect IT Solutions, a leading provider of cloud services and an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, today announces the appointment of Jason Leith as its new Chief Executive Officer.  Leith joins TechConnect as its first CEO and will take over the leadership and operations of the company from founder and former Managing Director, Michael (Mike) Cunningham.  Leith will be tasked with growing the TechConnect business across Australia, particularly in the large Enterprise and Government markets.  Mike Cunningham will step into the General Manager role.

Cunningham said that Leith was selected for his pedigree in growing data services businesses in enterprise and government markets, and his strong customer-first philosophy.

“Jason will help us to reach the next stage of maturity at TechConnect.  We have seen an intense bout of market consolidation in the data services and digital marketplace with several recent mergers and acquisitions.  We know we have a great offering at TechConnect and we’re backing ourselves for significant growth”, said Mike Cunningham, Founder and now General Manager of TechConnect.

“The change to our management structure, and the appointment of Jason Leith as our new CEO is the key first step in preparing us for the exponential growth we’re anticipating.”

Leith, who joins TechConnect from Amazon Web Services, has had a long and successful career in sales and territory management roles in the enterprise software, IT as a service, Software as a Service and Cloud Services markets.

Leith has previously worked in regional and global leadership, sales and account executive roles with Google, AWS, VMWare and Data#3.

“I am incredibly excited and honoured to be joining TechConnect.  I have had a long association with the team at TechConnect and have charted their growth in Australia over recent years.  The company has a strong culture and some of the finest technical minds in the industry”, said Jason Leith, CEO TechConnect.

“I’m looking forward to leading the next stage of growth for TechConnect.  I have a strong customer experience focus and believe in always starting projects, no matter how technical, from the customer’s business perspective.”

“TechConnect’s vision statement is ‘helping customers extract business value from data’. This aligns with my view of the world about creating value for customers and putting their overall experience first.”, said Leith.

TechConnect is an expert in the delivery of data services projects with clients in mining, healthcare, retail, transport, online gaming and more.  TechConnect will continue its expansion into areas of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence and in the near future, under Leith’s stewardship, will add a Data Strategy Sprint capability to its portfolio.

As part of its growth and maturity plans, TechConnect is also currently recruiting for a Chief Technology Officer.

TechConnect has plans to grow its team to 100+ people over the next three to five years, creating graduate employment and professional development opportunities in Queensland and throughout Australia.

The company has offices in Brisbane and the Gold Coast and has a graduate pathways program for top students in the STEM fields.

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What's the difference between Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML)?

What’s the difference between Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML)?

What’s the difference between Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML)?

The field of Artificial Intelligence encompasses all efforts at imbuing computational devices with capabilities that have traditionally been viewed as requiring human-level intelligence. 

This includes:

  • Chess, go and generalised game playing 
  • Planning and goal-directed behaviour in dynamic and complex environments 
  • Theorem proving, proof assistants and symbolic reasoning 
  • Computer vision  
  • Natural language understanding and translation 
  • Deductive, inductive and abductive reasoning 
  • Learning from experience and existing data 
  • Understanding and emulating emotion 
  • Fuzzy and probabilistic (Bayesean) reasoning 
  • Communication, teamwork, negotiation and argumentation between self-interested agents 
  • Early advances in signal processing (text to speech) 
  • Music understanding and creation 

Like intelligence itself it defies definition.

As a field, it predates Machine Learning and Machine Learning was seen as an early sub-field. Many things that are obvious or no longer considered AI have their roots in the field. Many database models (hierarchical, network and relational) have their roots in AI research. Optimisation and scheduling were early problems tackled under the umbrella of AI. Minsky’s Frame model reads like an early description of Object Oriented programming. LISP, Prolog and many other programming languages and programming language properties emerged as tools for or as a result of AI research.

Neural networks (a sub-field of machine learning) emerged in the 80s in the form of perceptrons and were heavily studied until it was demonstrated that a perceptron was unable to calculate XOR. However, with the invent of error back propagation over networks of perceptrons (a way to systematically train the weights between neurons) it was shown that neural networks have equivalent computational power to universal turing machines (if it can be computed on a turing machine a correctly configured neural network can also implement that same function).

With the invent of Deep Learning in the 2010s the popularity of machine learning has soared as great successes have been achieved using the approach. Due to limits on computational power, traditional neural networks were trained on meticulously human engineered features of the datasets, not the raw datasets themselves. With the progress in cloud, gpus and distributed learning it became possible to create much larger and deeper neural networks. This progressed to the point that large raw datasets could be used directly to train with and get predictions from. In so doing the neural networks extract their own features from the data as part of this process. Many of the recent advances have been achieved due to this (in addition to better neuron activation functions, faster training algorithms, new network architectures).  The successes have also inspired people to use Deep Learning as a means of solving some of the other problems in general AI (as discussed above) and this may explain why a convergence or confusion between AI and Machine Learning is perceived by many.

Machine Learning using Convolutional Neural Networks

Machine Learning with Amazon SageMaker

Computers are generally programmed to do what the developer dictates and will only behave predictably under the specified scenarios.

In recent years, people are increasingly turning to computers to perform tasks that can’t be achieved with traditional programming, which previously had to be done by humans performing manual tasks.   Machine Learning gives computers the ability to ‘learn’ and act on information based on observations without being explicitly programmed.

TechConnect entered the recent Get 2 the Core challenge on Unearthed’s crowd sourcing platformThis is TechConnect’s story, as part of the crowd sourcing approach, and does not imply or assert in any way that Newcrest Mining endorse Amazon Web Services or the work TechConnect have performed in this challenge.

Business problem

Currently a team at Newcrest Mining manually crop photographs of drill core samples before the photos can be fed into a system which detects the material type. This is extremely time-consuming due to the large number of photos. Hence why Newcrest Mining used crowd sourcing via the Unearthed platform, a platform bringing data scientists, start-ups and the energy & natural resources industry together.

Being able to automatically identify bounding box co-ordinates of the samples within an image would save 80-90% of the time spent preparing the photos.

Input Image

Machine Learning using Convolutional Neural Networks

Expected Output Image

Machine Learning using Convolutional Neural Networks

 

Before we can begin implementing an object-detection process, we first need to address a variety of issues with the photographs themselves, being:

  • Not all photos are straight
  • Not all core trays are in a fixed position relative to the camera
  • Not all photos are taken perpendicular to the core trays introducing a perspective distortion
  • Not all photos are high-resolution

In addition to the object-classification, we need to use an image-classification process to classify each image into a group based on the factors above. The groups are defined as:

Group 0 – Core trays are positioned correctly in the images with no distortion. This is the ideal case
Group 1 – Core trays are misaligned in the image
Group 2 – Core trays have perspective distortion
Group 3 – Core trays are misaligned and have perspective distortion
Group 4 – The photo has a low aspect ratio
Group 5 – The photo has a low aspect ratio and are misaligned

CNN Image Detection with Amazon Sagemaker

Solution

We tried to solve this problem using Machine Learning. In particular, we used supervised learning. When conducting supervised learning the system is provided with the input data and the classification/label desired output for each data point. The system learns a model that when provided a previously seen input will reliably output the correct labelling or the most likely label when an unseen input is provided.

This differs from unsupervised learning. When utilising unsupervised techniques, the target label is unknown and the system must group or derive the label from the inherent properties within the data set itself.

The Supervised Machine Learning process works by:

  1. Obtaining, preparing & labelling the input data
  2. Create a model
  3. Train the model
  4. Test the model
  5. Deploy & use the model

There are many specific algorithms for supervised learning that are appropriate for different learning tasks. The object detection and classification problem of identifying core samples in images is particularly suited to a technique known as convolutional neural networks. The model ‘learns’ by assigning and constantly adjusting internal weights and biases for each input of the training data to produce the specified output. The weights and biases become more accurate with more training data.

Amazon SageMaker provides a hosted platform that enabled us to quickly build, train, test and deploy our model.

Newcrest Mining provided a large collection of their photographs which contain core samples. A large subset of the photos also contained the expected output, which we used to train our model.

The expected output is a set of four (X, Y) coordinates per core sample in the photograph. The coordinates represent the corners of the bounding box that surrounds the core sample. Multiple sets of coordinates are expected for photos that contain multiple core samples.

The Process

We uploaded the supplied data to an AWS S3 bucket, using a separate prefix to separate images which we were provided the expected output for, and those with no output. S3 is an ideal store for the raw images with high durability, infinite capacity and direct integration with many other AWS products.

We further randomly split the photos with the expected output into a training dataset (70%) and a testing dataset (30%).

We created a Jupyter notebook on an Amazon SageMaker notebook instance to host and execute our code. By default the Jupyter notebook instance provides access to a wide variety of common data science tools such as numpy, tensorflow and matplotlib in addition to the Amazon SageMaker and AWS python SDKs. This allowed us to immediately focus on our particular problem of creating SageMaker compatible datasets with which we could build and test our models.

We trained our model by feeding the training dataset along with the expected output into an existing Sagemaker built object detection model to fine tune it to our specific problem. SageMaker has a collection of hyperparameters which influence how the model ‘learns’. Adjusting the hyperparameter values affects the overall accuracy of the model and how long the training takes. As the training proceeded we were able to monitor the changes to the primary accuracy metric and pre-emptively cancel any training configurations that did not perform well. This saved us considerable time and money by allowing us to abort poor configurations early.

We then tested the accuracy of our model by feeding testing data – data it has never seen – without the output, then comparing the model’s output to the expected output.

After the first round of training we had our benchmark for accuracy. From there we were able to tune the model by iteratively adjusting the hyperparameters, model parameters and by augmenting the data set with additional examples then retraining and retesting. Setting the hyperparameter values is more of an artform than a science – trial and error is often the best way.

We used a technique which dynamically assigned values to the learning rate after each epoch, similar to a harmonic progression:

Harmonic Progression

This technique allowed us to start with large values to allow the model to converge quickly initially, then reduce the learning rate value by an increasingly smaller amount after each epoch as the model gets closer to an optimal solution.  After many iterations of tuning, training and testing we had improved the overall accuracy of the model compared with our benchmark, and with our project deadline fast approaching we decided that it was accurate as possible in the timeframe that we had.

We then used our model to classify and detect the objects in the remaining photographs that didn’t exist in the training set.  The following images show the bounding boxes around the cores that our model predicted:

CNN Bounding
CNN Bounding

Lessons Learned

Before we began we had an extremely high expectation of how accurate our model would be. In reality it wasn’t as accurate as our expectations.
We discussed things that could have made the model more accurate, train faster or both, including:

  • Tuning the hyperparameters using SageMakers automated hyperparameter tuning tooling
  • Copying the data across multiple regions to gain better access to the specific machine types we required for training
  • Increasing the size of the training dataset by:
    • Requesting more photographs
    • Duplicating the provided photographs and modifying them slightly. This included:
      • including duplicate copies of images and labels
      • including copies after converting the images to greyscale
      • including copies after changing the aspect ratio of the images
      • including copies after mirroring the images
  • Splitting the problem into separate, simpler machine learnable stages
  • Strategies for identifying the corners of the cores when they are not a rectangle in the image

During these discussions we realised we hadn’t defined a cut-off for when we would consider our model to be ‘accurate enough’.

As a general rule the accuracy of the models you build improve most rapidly in the first few iterations, after that the rate of improvement slows significantly. Each subsequent improvement requires lengthier training, more sophisticated algorithms and models, more sophisticated feature engineering or substantial changes to approach entirely. This trend is depicted in the following chart:

Learning accuracy over time

Depending on the use case, a model with an accuracy of 90% often requires significantly less training time, engineering effort and sophistication than a model with an accuracy of 93%. The acceptance criteria for a model needs to carefully balance these considerations to maximise the overall return on investment for the project.

In our case time was the factor that dictated when we stopped training and started using the model to produce the outputs for unseen photographs.

 

Thank you to the team at TechConnect that volunteered to try Amazon Sagemaker to address the Get 2 the Core Challenge posted by Newcrest Mining on the Unearthered portal.  Also big thanks for sharing lessons learned and putting this blog together!