OpenCog In Ethiopia

By: Hruy Tsegaye

Once again, Ben was in Addis. This time, some of the OpenCog team members from Hong Kong (Ruiting and Scott) and Cosmo (from Seattle, Washington) accompanied him along with the documentary filmmaker, Roy Cohen (from Israel).

Our first visitors came to Ethiopia! It was a long-awaited event and the Pioneers of the Ethiopian Singularity had spent the whole week learning, sharing, theorising and sometimes arguing (of course the tone was that of a friendly one) on the concepts of AGI.

When every time Ben, Cosmo or Ruiting start to explain something about how to write some specific programs for NLP (Natural Language Processing), I can almost feel the energy shaking the Lab as if the Tesseract (the cosmic energy cube from Avengers) was in the room.

Our team in Addis was very excited. I, for one, was touched by how the world I know is changing and even disappearing quickly. I am not a programmer and my knowledge of computers is that of a cave man, but to see a Chinese woman, American men, Ethiopians and an Israeli (Roy and his documentary on Ben’s Robot) working together in such a way…

In the first two days, our cheerful guests focused on office activity and Roy was so busy filming the vibrant environment of the office. The visiting guests and our team didn’t waste a minute on formalities and they just started working together as one team as if it had always been like that.

Scot-Eskindir-AI-lab

While they were working, laughing, and sharing, I oftentimes wonder and get lost in my dreamy thoughts; will they be the first ones to solve the riddle of AGI and am I among a group of people that are going to change the future fate of the world?

They are, for sure, the right people determined to make an AGI our last invention. Whilst they were immersed in deep algorithm and other programing stuffs, I surfed on my crazy thoughts and the tides bring voices from the far corners of my brain. Voices that sing in a musical style of which is distinctly their own with impishly haunting tone, “♫the singularity here it comes/ and it doesn’t care who is naughty or who is nice”.

On the third day, the visiting group spent half the day outside the office. As part of Ben’s visit, the iCog Labs team in Addis Ababa has arranged a seminar, which was going to be held at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAIT). Actually, the seminar was expected to be a grand event, but our counterpart (from the institute) suggested that because they are not ready yet, we should reconsider the plan of running the seminar and instead readjust it as a kind of close meeting with some higher the officials of the institute and department heads.

To be honest, I expected that the event itself would be long and boring with many speakers who would not stop talking. Yet, from what I heard from Ben and Getnet, it was the complete opposite of what I just dreaded; a brief and fruitful meeting it was. The institute has promised to launch a Master’s Degree Program on Artificial Intelligence.

Addis-Ababa-Institute of technology-icog

To my best knowledge, the institute has already drafted a curriculum for the programme and Ben was greatly involved in the process. In addition, Getnet has just confirmed me that Ben, in his last year’s visit, has already discussed this with the Institute and he had actually drafted, on behalf of iCog Labs, a working Curriculum six month ago.

On the Wednesday meeting, the officials from the Institute discussed on the possibilities of online lecture courses that Ben and some of his colleagues can take care of. Obviously the task of building the platform was entrusted on iCog Labs.

On Friday, Getnet invited me to join our guest’s trip to a nearby town called Debrezeyt. Debrezeyt is a small town located 45km on the North East of Addis Ababa. The town is known for its nine rift valley lakes and it is one of the best hot spots for tourists traveling along the line of the Great Rift Valley.

We started the morning with high spirit; obviously, the group was pleased to finally get rid of Addis Ababa’s over crowded streets, over populated neighbourhoods, and chaotically noisy environment. To my surprise, the tranquility of Debrezyt’s atmosphere was so relaxing and for a hard core Addis Ababan like me it , in one word, was a ‘relief’.

On our way to the town, I told them about the legends of Korit; a one legged demon that lives in the lakes of Debrezeyt.  In one of Ethiopia’s very known medieval period Myths, a saint called Tsadiku Abo, after an Epic Battle which took place 700 km away from Addis Ababa (in a Province called Gojam) chased the demon to Debrezeyt. The chase was one of a kind and Tsadiku Abo unleashed his rage on the demon; they run all the way to the ‘city of lakes’ and as these are the people of the olden days, the though of resting didn’t come to their mind and as you have guessed it well, they did not, for a single second, take a brake amid their 700 km sprint.  The defeated demon must have been dog-tired when it reached Debrezyt and the saint fired a lightning accompanied with a mighty thunderbolt that must have scared the shit out of the demon so it took a dive in to one of Deberezeyt’s lakes. The grim side of this legend is that people and even some kings started to sacrifice virgin Boys. Rumour had it that the last King of Ethiopia, Emperor Hayleslase used to sacrifice children who are born with Unibrow.

Ben and Cosmo started to joke about the demon, somebody suggested perhaps the coming AGI Robots will apprehend this monster and bring him to justice. Ruiting was interested to know why a ‘unibrow child ‘ is the specific choice of the king.

Our first stop was Hora, the deepest lake in Deberezyt. As the lake happens to be a volcanic one, it rests in the belly of a perfectly circled hilltop crater. The view from the top is magnificent. Then we go to the second lake where we took a boat on the green, murky waters of Lake Bishoftu, the largest body of water in Debrezeyt. It’s also the lake where the legendary demon resides. Hiking around the lake was much fun and our guide makes it more dramatic. When every time a crackling noise bursts from the nearby bushes, he jumps. The man’s behavior continued to be a mystery for quite a time and if it was not for the animals that we saw behind the bushes, we would have never guessed it why.  To our surprise he was afraid of  warthogs. We took some picture of the peaceful warthogs that roam around the lake, when every time we stumble upon one, the beasts will look at us with blank eyes and then run away. They were more afraid of us than the guide was of them.

Ben, Ruiting and Getnet tried paddling; Ben mockingly confessed that paddling a boat is not as easy as programming a smart Robot.  The crew was tired, we call for a break and decide to have lunch.  We all had Ethiopian Food― one of the things that impressed me about the nature of our guests is that, they can eat Ethiopian Food with ease.

Ben-in-Ethiopia

The Hotel has a kind of Deck like design and having lunch by the side of Lake Bishoftu was so nourishing. While we hunt for stew meats in our communal dish, the ducks on the lake were hunting too. To see them diving at one side and coming out at the other with little fishes was like a testy appetizer.

Our last sight was Lake Kuriftu. Hiking around it was much tougher, it has a stony path, and a thorny bushes. Ben struggled to mount on the wall like stones at the right side of our direction, he was the only one to give it a try and he had almost succeeded climbing the menacing rocks. We then tried to hike on the left side, which was even much worse; the thick bush is thorny and hedge like. Cosmo, Roy and I quit as soon as we saw it while Ben, Ruiting and Getnet managed to pass through. On their way, they must have climbed over a garbage mountain for Ben recalls how he used to climb the New York garbage mountain.

The day was just perfect. It was my last time to be with our guests too.

Before they flew back to Hong Kong, Seattle and Israel they managed to see the festival of Timket, which is the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany on Sunday January 19th.

Epiphany-in-Ethiopia

I think they are lucky people because the festival by itself is one of the major tourist attractions and as a fortunate coincidence, our guests’ last day happened to be this particular day. The festivities of Timket and Maskal (the finding of the true cross) have been attracting a large number of tourists from across the globe and though our guests were not aware of it, I believe they quite certainly enjoyed it.

Our guest’s journey in the land of Ethiopia ends right here yet their quest for AGI continues.

iCog-OpenCog-AI- Teams

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