Pantelis Kaplanoglou

Machine Learning Engineer Developer Researcher

An Adventure in Computer Science

My story: From hobby to profession and academic pursue.

    As far as I can remember, my first experience with computers was hitting the fire button in the arcade game Phoenix, while my father controlled the left-right movement buttons and the shield. Then came the 8-bit home computer that all children in the 80s loved, because we could play in front of the TV and inside the comfort of a friend's or relative's house. We used to enjoy our cousin's Commodore 64 for both its colorful games and the treats of my aunt.

When my parents had bought us an Atari 65XE, this hobby evolved into something better. After the first week and the total occupation of the living room by everybody except our mother, some "magic spells" written on a spiral textbook came into our attention. There were words in a strange language called BASIC that could be entered in the starting screen of the computer, which commanded the machine to act as we like (wow!). The program could be stored into a cassette with CSAVE and loaded with CLOAD, so we started experimenting immediately. Our goal was simple: Write our own games and compete whose game would be better. We even expanded the competition to include my cousin and some friends who owned the more advanced Amstrad CPC 6128 machines, but entering PEEK / POKE or having to use the COPY button was counterproductive for them.

Moving on to high school, an expensive HYUNDAI Super-16X PC came into our house for the needs of my father's job, mechanical engineer/designer. Powerful 16-bit hardware included Intel 8088 CPU and 8087 co-processor, 640KB RAM and its own 16-color EGA monitor. It has a DOS 3.3 operating system and GWBASIC, with programs that could be stored on the enormous 20 MB hard disk, which heads needed to be parked using the PARK command. Its 3.5" 720KB floppy disks were proven additionally useful, because were the reason for an early lesson on the significance of IT security. The term "Computer Virus" was introduced to me through a floppy disk that infected the .EXE and .COM in the hard drive, later discovered as the Yankee Doodle virus. When we bought the first McAfee SCAN and CLEAN antivirus we also found Ping-Pong and Pakistani-Brain in some floppy disks.

In 1990 our father started a computer shop as a second job, which mostly sold cashier machines that were mandated for the first time in Greece by law 1809/1988. I helped him by picking up phone orders and programming the header text for the receipts that included the customer's business title, address, phone and VAT registration number. It was summer and I remember that the lemonades bought with my own-earned money were more refreshing than the ones bought with my allowance. I wrote my first productivity tool in order to save the customer fields in a file and generate the non-ASCII encoding for two types of cashier machines OMRON and IES. Thus it became clear that I wanted to work as a computer programmer, even though I was also good in language, literature and history and my mother hoped that I would follow her profession and become a lawyer. The next years I transformed my childhood hobby and my dream as a teenager into my profession. Initially I worked in the IT business with my own personal company, which continued the family business. Later on I moved to software development which was my desirable target on which I could unleash my creativity. I had the privilege to work with great colleagues and customers in all my workplaces, become a team leader in a small R&D team and a team member in a multinational company. Concurrently I have transformed my endeavor into a more formal academic pursue, with a B.Sc. degree in Software Engineering and an M.Sc. in Web Intelligence that I have just finished. I delivered a thesis on Computer Vision, Deep Learning and Information Retrieval.

The world of Computer Science has changed greatly since that oldskool times, where there was no internet but great enthusiasm. I continue to feel the same excitement, especially today when disruptive technologies like the Internet of Things are emerging and research fields like Machine Learning are showing astounding advances. Nowadays a Deep Reinforcement Learning system can learn to play "Phoenix" and other games from my beloved 8-bit Atari. This is for me awesome, considering what I have described as the start of my adventure in Computer Science.

Enthusiasm motivates my latest career decision to expand to applied Machine Learning research, leaving my comfort zone in ERP and financial software development. But aspiration comes together with contemplation, a way of thinking that I gained together with some gray hair. Envisioning a better future, we could benefit from Artifical Intelligence for two great reasons:
  1. Solve some of mankind's great problems which are quantifiable, usually involving big data or us not perceiving the big picture.
  2. Delegate some trivial tasks of intelligence to machines, in order to make time for human thought to pursue wisdom, hopefully solving all great problems.
If such higher causes are not reached, we could at least use this additional time to enjoy the important things in life.

Deep Learning

The hierarchy of scientific fields

  • Computer Science
  • |__ Artificial Intelligence
  •     |__ Computational Intelligence
  •         |__ Artificial Neural Networks
  •             |__ Deep Learning