Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are innovative technologies that are unlocking opportunities and helping solve some of our most difficult challenges. But to date in India, women are underrepresented among those people who are exploring and learning what these technologies can do.
To encourage greater participation, on International Women’s Day 2021 we announced that Amazon Web Services (AWS) DeepRacer Women’s League was coming to India for the first time.
This competition sees individuals use ML to program a model race car, and then navigate a miniature track as quickly as possible. Thousands of developers around the world have taken part in DeepRacer League competitions, with many going on to compete in the Championship Cup held at the annual worldwide customer event, AWS re:Invent.
Put simply, ML is the science of getting computers to learn and act like humans do, and improve their learning over time in autonomous fashion, by feeding them data and information in the form of observations and real-world interactions. Participants in the DeepRacer Women’s League train their cars using a form of ML known as reinforcement learning. The car learns to navigate its way around the track using trial and error, and whenever it navigates a section of the track in an optimal way it is ‘rewarded’. Over time the car learns to navigate the entire track as quickly as possible.
This form of ML has multiple applications in the real world, such as Amazon Alexa, Netflix recommendation engines, or intelligent gaming. The AWS DeepRacer Women’s League India 2021 competition was open to women students over 18 years of age who are enrolled with an academic institution in India. More than 17,000 women students showed interest in participating with students progressing through their Regional Community Races, to qualify for the National Community Race.
The 15 best performers of the National Community Race then competed in the Grand Finale, using a highly complex track with many tight turns. The contest took place on April 21, and streamed live on twitch.tv.
Top spot on the leader board was claimed by Helen Thomas, a Ph.D. student from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, with a lap time of just 33:33 seconds. First runner-up was Surbhi Agrawal, a Bachelor of Technology student from the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, with the second runner-up going to Kashish Bansal, a Bachelor of Technology student from the Indian Institute of Technology, Indore.
Helen received an Amazon voucher worth INR 100,000, an Amazon Fire TV Stick, and the chance to compete with racers around the world at the international AWS DeepRacer League Championship Cup, which will take place at AWS re:Invent in November. Surbhi and Kashish also received Amazon vouchers worth INR 75,000 and INR 50,000 respectively, as well as Amazon Fire TV Stick devices.
“Thanks, AWS team, for walking us through every step of the race. The last week was hectic going through various stages of the AWS DeepRacer League, but with a lot of excitement. Looking forward to participating in upcoming races!”
Helen Thomas, winner, AWS DeepRacer Women’s League – India 2021.
“The AWS DeepRacer League is a great starting point for exploring reinforcement learning in a practical way. I learnt a lot about the technical aspects of building a good reinforcement learning model and hope to dive deep into it in the future. The initiative taken by AWS to encourage women to take part in the AI/ ML community is commendable! This has been a fun learning experience for me.”
Surbhi Agrawal, first runner-up, AWS DeepRacer Women’s League – India 2021
The AWS DeepRacer Women’s League India 2021 competition gave participants an opportunity to get hands-on with ML. As well as training for the DeepRacer League, participants attended enablement sessions hosted by AWS to learn the basics of ML and reinforcement learning (RL), and undertook the Machine Learning Scientist career pathway training unit on AWS Educate, which is a global initiative to provide educators and students comprehensive resources for building skills in cloud technology at no cost. They also learnt about the ML technologies powering Amazon’s recommendation engines, Amazon Alexa, along with the ML training service Amazon SageMaker, which is used by organisations around the world to build, train, and deploy ML models.
Speaking at the Grand Finale, the President for Public Sector, AISPL, AWS India and South Asia, Rahul Sharma said: “At AWS, we believe that technology should be built in a way that’s inclusive, diverse, and equitable. The AWS DeepRacer Women’s League – India 2021 is a conscious effort to inspire women students towards careers in technology, enable them to easily adopt ML, and help in the creation of a more diverse workforce of the future. AWS is focused on democratizing ML services and making it available to the entire developer community, and is working very closely with public and private sector organisations in India to accelerate the adoption of ML.”
“I didn’t have a single clue about Reinforcement Learning before entering the AWS DeepRacer Women’s League competition. While competing in the earlier rounds, I realised there is a whole another world to explore here, and I was literally taken aback with what we can do with some simple code.” Kashish Bansal, second runner-up, AWS DeepRacer Women’s League – India 2021
In a message to the contestants, Shri K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, said: “The significance of upskilling and getting trained to keep up with unprecedented technological advancements irrespective of the stage of one’s career and area of work, cannot be emphasized enough. AI-enabled technologies can provide innovative solutions for issues in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, education, energy, and more. The efforts of the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to facilitate industry engagements is supporting capacity-building initiatives for emerging technologies. The AWS DeepRacer competition is a culmination of a women’s league to foster community learning to make headway towards the early adoption of AI-enabled technologies. This will positively impact our efforts to create a more inclusive R&D ecosystem for new and emerging technologies.”
“At our core, AWS focuses on empowering builders, and the AWS DeepRacer Women’s League 2021 is an excellent example of this, as it’s designed to inspire and enable builders of all skill levels,” explained Puneet Chandok, President for Commercial Business, AISPL, AWS India and South Asia. “We are committed to enabling the participation of more women in technology and ML, and this competition makes it easy for people with little or no ML experience to participate, learn new skills, and get hands-on experience.”
Also speaking at the event was Shaili Chopra, Founder of SheThePeople.TV, a platform that focuses on ‘real stories of real women’. Shaili said, “Technology is not new to us. But it’s interesting how every time that humanity comes face to face with a big challenge, such as the pandemic, it shows what transformational moments technology can create for us. When we recognise the power of big data, AI and ML insights, and interpret this data for the sake of humanity, we can completely change the way we view ourselves and what lies ahead.”
Shaili urged the women students to play a role in the technology transformation ahead, make a mark for themselves by aiming high in their technology careers, and bridging the gender gap that currently exists in the workforce.