FOSSASIA OpenTechSummit 2019

FOSSASIA brings together developers and users of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). It is an organization developing software applications for social change using a wide-range of technologies. It was established 2009. Projects range from Free and Open Source software, to design, graphics and hardware.

The annual FOSSASIA OpenTechSummit is one of the largest gatherings of developers in Asia and in recent years took place in Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore. This years OpenTechSummit celebrated 10 years of FOSSASIA at the home base of FOSSASIA, Singapore. With about 200 speakers including some representatives from large companies (Vice President of IBM Asia Pacific, Head OSS Lead at Microsoft, Developer Advocate at Google, etc) 3 days were filled with lots of talks, workshops, and hands-on-sessions.

The Schedule Roster gives a pretty good impression about the busy schedule we had:

The program consisted of

  • Conference Tracks: Artificial Intelligence; Blockchain; Cloud, Containers, DevOps; Cybersecurity; Database; Hardware & Design; Kernel & Platform; Mobile Technologies; Open Data, Internet, Community; Science & Education; Web Technologies
  • Cloud and AI Workshops
  • FOSSASIA Academy: Learning new tech skills
  • OpenTech Hackathon with UNESCO: Year of Indigenous Languages

and of course daily social events like pub crawls, city tours, and the 10 year celebration party, midnight hack sessions, cultural morning tours, etc. Many companies like IBM, UNESCO, Google, Indeed, Microsoft, Facebook, Flowchain, MySQL/Oracle, and many more did set up booths during the conference.

From the long list of sessions I attended, I want to pick three that impressed me a lot: The UNESCO Hackathon for the Year of Indigenous Languages, the Artificial Intelligence and Personal Voice Assistants track, and the Blockchain track.

UNESCO Hackathon for the International Year of Indigenous Languages

2019 is the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, and members of the UNESCO have been attending FOSSASIA 2019, promoting their projects and raising awareness of the problems and risks confronting indigenous languages, especially those significant for development, reconciliation, good governance and peace building.

During the conference the FOSSASIA Hackathon with UNESCO took place, specifically looking for applications and games, that tackle questions of indigenous people and their languages and solutions which could be replicated in other countries solving challenges for indigenous populations.

Together with about 12 others I was one of the mentors for the 15 teams, supporting them in questions related to languages, software, or open data. At the end, 15 excellent projects were submitted and the jury had a hard time to select the winners.

Artificial Intelligence and Personal Voice Assistants

The track on AI was not surprisingly one of the biggest, with talks stretching from introductory courses to overview over the ML landscape. To mention only one talk, I would pick Dr. Graham Williams, Director of Data Science Director of Data Science at Microsoft, on Accessible Machine Learning introducing MLHub – The Machine Learning Hub. This project collects quickly accessible and ready to run, explore, rebuild, and even deploy, pre-built machine learning models and data science technology.

Having struggled with building my own models, training them, working on deployment, I really like to see access to models and data more easily available.

On a personal note, after long and interesting chat with Graham, I realized that he was a contributer to the CTAN project in former times, and was much involved in the TeX world as I am – what coincidence.

Another big part of the track was about Personal Voice Assistants, and in particular about one of the FOSSASIA project of developing a privacy aware personal assistant, SUSI.AI. As of now, this assistant is available on Android, iOS, can be installed on the desktop, and we have a development setup using a Raspberry Pi for a smart speaker.

The skills of SUSI.AI, as well as all the software is open source, and skill development can be done with a textual interface in Wiki style.

I see great potential in this project, especially considering the privacy concerns with Amazon (Alexa) and Google (Google Home).


The blockchain track was, compared to the AI track, rather short, but contained a few very interesting presentations. Ong Khai Wei from IBM talked about the Hyperledger project, now hosted at The Linux Foundation, which hosts several business blockchain frameworks and tools.

Other talks primarily discussed the relationship between FOSS and blockchain and smart contracts.

I also presented work on Cross Platform Distribution of Software, in particular within the TeX Live project, which I consider one if the big problems in software development and distribution. And while new programming languages like Go provide support for several platforms, it is still a long way to what we at the TeX Live project support, namely about 15 architecture/operating system combinations.

I think the conference was a great success: I could get into contact with lots of interesting and influential members of the FOSS community as well as company representatives. I learned many things about AI, Blockchain, and personal assistants, and got involved in the actual software development of SUSI.AI.

Last but not least, I think that FOSSASIA and its meeting is a great place to see how diversity in software development can work out well! While other OSS projects like Debian are fighting to get reasonable diversity despite their diversity statements, the FOSSASIA is an explosion of diversity: women make up about half the participants, members are from all over the world and all kind of color, an incredible enjoyable and inspiring environment to be.

Thanks to the organizers of FOSSASIA and the Meeting!

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