I'm Alex Kearney, a PhD student studying Computer Science at the University of Alberta. I focus on Artificial Intelligence and Epistemology.


Sunset over a fortress at the end of the workshop. I learned a lot hanging out with the Porto gang.

There's so much interesting research on perception and embodiment out there. I'm excited to see how it shapes future work in machine intelligence and robotics.

At: DISSELF II and Avant Conference

From 2019-10-23T09:00 To 2019-10-26T12:00


Today, I was one of many people picked up to go diving. When I hopped on the van, there was already a lady from Ohio. We chatted it up, and I found out she did software training with doctors. Neat. Next, we picked picked up a couple who spoke french on the way over. After seeing my shirt, they asked me if I was from Alberta. I was shocked to find someone on a dive boat in Japan that recognized Amii: the machine intelligence institute I belong to.

I climbed up to the top deck and chatted with them most of the way to the islands. Serendipity: they were both Canadian diplomats serving in South Korea. The both wanted to know more about AI. Evidently, their work touches on it: Korean investors are keen on Canadian, (and Albertan) AI research. I gave a boat-ride explanation on the differences between different machine learning methods, and how Reinforcement Learning---my favourite branch of AI---differs from many of the more common approaches to machine learning.

Today we did three lively dives: among the spottings were angelfish, clownfish, and sea-snakes. I had never seen clownfish before: one of the sea-creatures on my bucketfish. They were almost whisp-like; sentinels hovering over their anemone, keeping watch.

On our last dive, we went to a location with an abundance of sea turtles. It's always relaxing to watch these graceful creature slip through the currents; however, this dive was shockingly distressing. The dive-sites were heaving with other dive boats, with visitors kitted up to the gills. Almost every person on the other boats had top-of the line cameras with all the external flash-bulbs and lights. Thick gloves; thick booties.

As soon as our group made our descent, we found another group that was laying down on the coral reef. One of the divers was anchored onto living coral to get a shot of a turtle, completely oblivious that he was killing a vital member of his model's ecosystem. Satisfied with their shot, they kicked off the coral, breaking off six inches of stag-horn coral. For all the money poured into their gear, they didn't have even an ounce of buoyancy control.

There were so many disrespectful, dangerous divers. Crowding the marine life, grabbing the coral through the protection of thick, cumbersome gloves. Oblivious to their fins bashing into broad coral fans. If tourists keep treating the reef this way, it wont exist for much longer; ruined for everyone. Most of all, the turtles.


This morning, I opted to do something familar: to retread my steps and go back to the renoir for a cup of coffee.

Afterwards, I trekked out to harajuku. I found the famous street and ambled along. Even at 9 A.M. it was already heaving. The streets were bursting at the seams although much of the street was closed.

I have to admit, while some aspects are wild---e.g., rainbow toasties---the street was otherwise unremarkable.

I focused on brahms path and confirmed a suspicion: it is named after the composer. Trundling down brahms path, Being one street removed, really changed the feeling. Even the smell of lush plants growing on the sides of buildings was nice. I charted out the places I wanted to visit and let interest guide me. When I found something unusual or mundane, I let that impulse guide me.

I found so many neat streets---interesting nooks and crannies. I went to a little coffee shop next to shinjuku. It had low ceilings and beautiful heavy wooden seating. I ordered a slice of cake and a pourover.

The couple sitting next to me seemed pleasant. They commented on my choice of cake. We started to chit-chat and I found out that they were from California, from SanFrancisco. One of them did arts and life reviews and commentary.

We chatted about their career, and the sustainability of the arts community in a city being crowded out by tech. They asked me what I did, and I mentioned I was a grad-student studying AI. One of them worked at GoogleBrain. You can never escape. There is no holiday.


This morning, I opted to do something familar: to retread my steps and go back to the renoir for a cup of coffee.

Afterwards, I trekked out to harajuku. I found the famous street and ambled along. Even at 9 A.M. it was already heaving. The streets were bursting at the seams although much of the street was closed.

I have to admit, while some aspects are wild---e.g., rainbow toasties---the street was otherwise unremarkable.

I focused on brahms path and confirmed a suspicion: it is named after the composer. Trundling down brahms path, Being one street removed, really changed the feeling. Even the smell of lush plants growing on the sides of buildings was nice. I charted out the places I wanted to visit and let interest guide me. When I found something unusual or mundane, I let that impulse guide me.

I found so many neat streets---interesting nooks and crannies. I went to a little coffee shop next to shinjuku. It had low ceilings and beautiful heavy wooden seating. I ordered a slice of cake and a pourover.

The couple sitting next to me seemed pleasant. They commented on my choice of cake. We started to chit-chat and I found out that they were from California, from SanFrancisco. One of them did arts and life reviews and commentary.

We chatted about their career, and the sustainability of the arts community in a city being crowded out by tech. They asked me what I did, and I mentioned I was a grad-student studying AI. One of them worked at GoogleBrain. You can never escape. There is no holiday.


At the wildly talented @melosare’s tech talk at @AmiiThinks #AI meetup. Learning about the promise and peril of #ml in medicine.

The room is absolutely heaving! It’s great to see so much interest in #yeg AI 😊 🤖


Important points about the value and importance of communication in research here.

Other additional factor to note:

  • spending time on outreach will necessarily mean less time on fundamental research. It’s a trade-off that needs to be appreciated more.

I often see this expectation that the people doing outreach and community coordination will just magically be able to do that and produce the same amount of work as people who aren’t taking on these other tasks. Eventually it just becomes expected that some of the students will take on these projects alongside their research responsibilities.

They get burnt out. They stop. The community goes through an outreach drought.

This happens a lot with minority students in STEM get tapped to do community outreach. It’s all good if you’re interested in community building, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to work on these issues. The effort should be recognized as coming at the expense of research.

Moreover, people leading diversity initiatives shouldn't feel entitled to minority student's time when it comes to contributing to diversity projects just because they're a minority. Too many times I see people working on these sorts of projects getting shoe-horned into the roles because they're in an under-represented group.

Even if students are interested in diversity projects, it becomes a balancing act in maintaining their academic reputation: the more they work on these community and diversity building initiatives, the less of a serious scientist they are to some people---even if they're a wildly talented researcher. This is a massive shame that holds the whole community back.


Sights from DLLS & RLSS 2018 in Toronto.

This year I went to DLSS and RLSS in Toronto. The introductory talks were probably the best intro to neural nets talks I'd seen: the talks were tight and intuitive without having to water down the technical details.

The number of people cramming in for the summer school was surprising. It's really great to see how interest in Reinforcement Learning has picked up in recent years.

Being back in Toronto for the summer means that I had I had the chance to wander around kensington market again. This time, sans persistent summer flu. With a few fellow students in tow, Anna and I hit up Yarns Untangled, the first LYS I ever visited. We picked up needles and yarn to teach some people how to knit while sharing a pitcher of beer on the patio across the street.

Against my better judgement, I picked up a few indie-dyed skeins of yarn. One from lichen and lace---a dyer on the east coast---and one from fiesty fibers---a local Torontonian who happened to be having a trunk sale while we were in town.

Who knows what the skeins will end up being. I suppose I can always teach myself how to knit socks.

Having the chance to hit up local yarn stores with active communities reminds me of what I'm missing out on in Edmonton. YU felt like a community hub. People would would gather on their couches, chatting with each other while they worked on whatever project they were carrying with them.

While I was waiting for a few people I sat myself down next two a couple of women and felt right at home chatting with them about how they originally started knitting and what they were currently working on. It's really refreshing to have these spaces which people can come into and join without any introduction: it's really healthy to have these communities where people can just feel at home.

I have no regrets about wandering into Little Pebbles to have Japanese dessert before meeting with some of the other students for brunch. I had this little matcha tiramisu which was carefully constructed in this little box which reminded me of sake drinking vessels. Interestingly, instead of a brandy base, at the bottom of the tiramisu was a bit of red bean paste to sweeten and balance out the earthy matcha flavours.

The whole place was bright and funky without being overwhelmingly ornate. It was an unusual and pleasant surprise to see the little signs up on the tables which politely notified people that they had to put their electronics away during peak hours--an attempt to foster community and conversation.

When wandering around the city I found a whole bunch of cute ceramics, which make me regret not having kept up with pottery after highschool. Maybe I'll need to eventually fix that and take a course at Edmonton's city arts centre.

The closest coffee shop to where I was staying was Hopper. It was a cute little place with great snacks and even better espresso. In spite of being fairly spartan in terms of quantity of furniture, what they had was really funky---i.e., campbell's soup can tables.

I finally managed to try goldstruck--a place I wanted to visit while I was interning in Toronto, but never quite had the chance to. They definitely themed the place appropriately. Walking down the stairs into the sub-terrainian coffeeshop, you're greeted by the warm glow of industrial lighting and mining-inspired decor. Even the bathroom has these massive wooden barn-doors which slide open.

Of course, my favourite little cafe was sorry: a little gem that's tucked away in a corner, unapologetically making great espresso and pastries.


Sights from DLLS & RLSS 2018 in Toronto.

This year I went to DLSS and RLSS in Toronto. The introductory talks were probably the best intro to neural nets talks I'd seen: the talks were tight and intuitive without having to water down the technical details.

The number of people cramming in for the summer school was surprising. It's really great to see how interest in Reinforcement Learning has picked up in recent years.

Being back in Toronto for the summer means that I had I had the chance to wander around kensington market again. This time, sans persistent summer flu. With a few fellow students in tow, Anna and I hit up Yarns Untangled, the first LYS I ever visited. We picked up needles and yarn to teach some people how to knit while sharing a pitcher of beer on the patio across the street.

Against my better judgement, I picked up a few indie-dyed skeins of yarn. One from lichen and lace---a dyer on the east coast---and one from fiesty fibers---a local Torontonian who happened to be having a trunk sale while we were in town.

Who knows what the skeins will end up being. I suppose I can always teach myself how to knit socks.

Having the chance to hit up local yarn stores with active communities reminds me of what I'm missing out on in Edmonton. YU felt like a community hub. People would would gather on their couches, chatting with each other while they worked on whatever project they were carrying with them.

While I was waiting for a few people I sat myself down next two a couple of women and felt right at home chatting with them about how they originally started knitting and what they were currently working on. It's really refreshing to have these spaces which people can come into and join without any introduction: it's really healthy to have these communities where people can just feel at home.

I have no regrets about wandering into Little Pebbles to have Japanese dessert before meeting with some of the other students for brunch. I had this little matcha tiramisu which was carefully constructed in this little box which reminded me of sake drinking vessels. Interestingly, instead of a brandy base, at the bottom of the tiramisu was a bit of red bean paste to sweeten and balance out the earthy matcha flavours.

The whole place was bright and funky without being overwhelmingly ornate. It was an unusual and pleasant surprise to see the little signs up on the tables which politely notified people that they had to put their electronics away during peak hours--an attempt to foster community and conversation.

When wandering around the city I found a whole bunch of cute ceramics, which make me regret not having kept up with pottery after highschool. Maybe I'll need to eventually fix that and take a course at Edmonton's city arts centre.

The closest coffee shop to where I was staying was Hopper. It was a cute little place with great snacks and even better espresso. In spite of being fairly spartan in terms of quantity of furniture, what they had was really funky---i.e., campbell's soup can tables.

I finally managed to try goldstruck--a place I wanted to visit while I was interning in Toronto, but never quite had the chance to. They definitely themed the place appropriately. Walking down the stairs into the sub-terrainian coffeeshop, you're greeted by the warm glow of industrial lighting and mining-inspired decor. Even the bathroom has these massive wooden barn-doors which slide open.

Of course, my favourite little cafe was sorry: a little gem that's tucked away in a corner, unapologetically making great espresso and pastries.