Strong Turnout For First Hi!Paris Hackathon
Over the March 12 weekend, the Hi! Paris Center further marked its interdisciplinary research commitments through an inaugural hackathon, the Center’s first Data/AI event baptized Hi!ckathon. 35 teams, involving three to seven HEC and IP Paris students each, sought to build a business project around the theme of AI for energy consumption. The five awards were sponsored by the Center’s major corporate donors, in alphabetical order, Capgemini, Kering, L’Oréal, Rexel and Total.
“This first hackathon organized by Hi!Paris demonstrates how AI and data science,” notes Thierry Foucault, “combined with insights from social sciences and a good dose of creativity can address important societal challenges in innovative ways.” The co-scientific director of Hi!Paris summed up the driving spirit of an intense March weekend which impressed the observers, sponsors and jury. “I was truly amazed at what you have achieved in these two days,” said Hi!Paris executive director, Gaël Richard, addressing the 150+ students who had been split up into 35 teams. “I want to congratulate you all for the effort and courage you showed in the face of such a difficult topic.”
? The first #data challenge by #HiPARIScenter has come to a close. Key takeaways from @HECParisMasters student Sarah Jallot and @TelecomParis_ PhD student Morgane Goibert ⬇️ cc @IP__Paris @Polytechnique #AI #DataScience pic.twitter.com/WhWtnTdseX
— HEC Paris Business School (@HECParis) March 15, 2021
That “difficult topic” boiled down to producing efficient data science models which both imagine original eco-friendly solutions and create responsible business projects. The MSc students from HEC and IP Paris were vying for top prizes in five categories: scientific approach, business pitch, interdisciplinary methodology, technical excellence and innovation. Diversity was the underlying strength of all five winning teams who offered convincing proposals to the 15-strong jury.
Tackling Energy Loss in Diamond Mines
The Kering Interdisciplinary award, for example, went to six students in the HEC-Polytechnique joint major who presented software which could secure microgrids for mining companies in carbon-intensive industry, specifically the controversial diamond-mining firms. “Our project aims at promoting more sustainable practices to reduce the greenhouse gases generated by diamond extraction,” insisted X-HEC student Anne-Sophie Dielen. “We will help rid the blood-diamond image associated to the industry, as well as bringing down energy costs by $1 per carat.” The students’ project aimed at bringing down energy consumption by 30% and offering local communities with the excess energy.
Team 25 also made a strong impression, taking the Capgemini Scientific Approach Award as well as figuring in the top three in a trio of other categories (Innovation, Interdisciplinary and Business Opportunity). “It’s wonderful to see how machine learning can provide an efficient solution to match perfectly low carbon energy production with demand!” enthused the leader of the five-person team, Valentine Malivel. “In 48 hours, our team built a machine-learning algorithm to optimize a Smart Grid electricity system to prioritize using renewable energy and avoid carbon emissions.” Jury member Moez Draief (Chief Data Scientist at Capgemini) praised the alliance between pragmatic approach and daring innovations: “Your report was clear and synthetic. You obviously have a sharp understanding of micro-goods,” he said in conclusion. As was the case with the other winners, Draief invited the students for an induction in his company’s AI work.
“A Kaleidoscope of Backgrounds”
The jury rewarded the L’Oréal Business Pitch Award to the Optimus project, which used advanced machine learning and real time decision-making to monitor companies’ carbon emission through data visualization, thus reflecting the “power of collective intelligence”. The Rexel Innovation Award went to a project called Flex AInergy. The five-person team noted: “We provide building owners and operators with the possibility to defend the trade-off between costs, risk and carbon impact, which suits their business requirements and ecological ambitions.” Finally, the Total Technical Excellence Award was attributed to a team which HEC student Willie Hernandez Romero described as a “kaleidoscope of backgrounds and experiences”: “Our inter-disciplinary nature helped us tackle high-fixed costs by using a smart grid based on AI solutions which are scalable according to the size of the companies. Our smart-grid algorithms center on real-life observations of people’s behavior so it’s easier for users to understand what the smart grid is doing.”
Such a diversity of approaches and disciplines is at the heart of the Hi!Paris philosophy, said HEC Dean Eloïc Peyrache: “Mixing the talents of engineers and managers is a considerable source of innovation, because real innovation is driven by diversity,” he added, and he encouraged students to look to the CEOs backing the hackathon as role models. The Center’s co-scientific director Eric Moulines added that the stakes for AI are considerable, as students seek to answer scientific challenges by combining AI with the human experience. Fellow director Thierry Foucault noted that “the seeds are flourishing in many directions”: “AI and management science can address both business and societal issues.”
In the coming months, the Hi!Paris Center turns to organizing further webinars, developing its fellowship and PhD programs, sending out internship proposals and preparing a summer school for its most advanced students.
But, already, the Hi!ckathon has allowed students to get off to a flying start, reflecting the center’s Telecom Paris Professor Stephan Clémençon’s words before the hackathon began: “Not all the numerous facets of AI and Data Science can be taught by means of lectures and labs. Collective exposure to real-world situations is essential as well. In this respect, data challenges and hackathons can play a crucial role in your training. I bet that this Hi!ckathon will be a valuable experience for you.”