Remembering the Past & Preparing for the Future

Remembering the Past & Preparing for the Future

The Dream Machine AI Academy is a free Juneteenth event for anyone curious about AI. Participants gained hands-on experience, and heard inspiring talks from AI leaders and community experts. Here are a few experiences and takeaways from my visit at the wonderful conference covering generative AI.

Curtis Evans
Amazon Employee
Published Jun 19, 2024
Recently, I had the honor of participating in an extraordinary event that allowed me to speak about one of my passions, and to reflect on my past. The passion is sort of a no-brainer which is technology — something I have been deeply immersed in for most of my life. The past however is what resonated the most because the event was in honor of Juneteenth, an historic and increasingly recognized holiday to commemorate the June 19th, 1865 emancipation of enslaved people (black people) in the United States.
I was there to deliver a workshop as part of the programming hosted by The Dream Machine AI Academy. The location was just minutes from my doorstep here in Atlanta, but truth be told, if the event was hosted thousands of miles away, I still would’ve accepted because the most important thing was being there. This was a great opportunity to bring lasting impact not only to the moment, but for those who participated. A big THANK YOU by the way is on order for my AWS colleague Diya Wynn who was also there as a speaker and very instrumental with overall event programming.
A Day of Learning and Reflection
For starters, it was great to see such a large, and diverse crowd the entire day. I estimated roughly 300-325 people throughout the venue. I also found the name Dream Machine to be appropriate because in a lot of ways it was a dream. At a minimum, it was a continuation of the dreams of those emancipated African Americans who were given their first glimmer of hope at creating a better life for their families. At the event, I witnessed those dreams being continued proudly by many who were there to honor the moment by making themselves better. They were eager to learn about the latest advances in AI technology and create a starting point that would position them for a future in AI for the benefit of their families. There were nurses, college students, young IT professionals, musicians, and aspiring entrepreneurs who — just like those 159 years before them — were seeking a better way!
Traditional Juneteenth celebrations generally involve picnics, large family gatherings, music festivals, and other forms of street fare. What I enjoyed most about this event was how it included a celebration of the mind. In other words, people weren’t there to just remember and rejoice...they were there to repurpose and retrain. That alone made the day a huge success for so many taking advantage of the opportunity to embrace this new challenging world in which generative AI is now ubiquitous.

During the opening session, attendees listened to an inspiring panel discussion that would set the tone for the day. Several AI experts shared their perspectives on current AI advancements, and other developments occurring in the field. Heavy emphasis was placed on the responsible development, and ethical use of AI. Juneteenth's existence in many ways serves as a reminder of what happens when society does things the wrong way. Suffice it to say, no one wants to experience a world in which bad AI is the order of the day. Another important point was the economic impact generative AI could pose on us all. The panelists underscored how AI threatens to transform industries with the potential for massive job loss. Thankfully, they also reminded the crowd about the potential for better jobs, and career prosperity that everyone could think and act on in a positive way.
My session was titled, "Introduction to Generative AI on AWS". Normally, I can deliver a presentation appropriate for this title with relative ease, but because I was so eager to inspire and share as much as possible with the audience, I found it challenging to cover what I prepared for the 90 minute time slot. I must take some of the blame as I made it a point to allow the attendees to ask many questions during the session...Why? Because, this was their time not mine.
After providing an overview of the history of AI, intelligent machinery, and the explosion of data, we began to discuss how a modern company like Amazon uses AI technology as part of its daily business operations. Most of the attendees could relate to use cases like Alexa, and online shopping recommendations. As we began to talk about AWS, it was at this moment when many were first introduced to capabilities and services like Amazon Q, and Bedrock. From there, I introduced a few important generative AI concepts like prompts, large language models, and training which made for a great segue into to the best part of the session which was the PartyRock demo!
PartyRock an Amazon Bedrock playground

PartyRock is a low-friction way to help people both the technical and non-technical learn the fundamentals of generative AI like model choice, and prompt engineering. The service is free and very easy to get started with, because it does not require any prior coding experience. Those attending the session found the tool to be a great way to build skills quickly by experiment directly with generative AI.
After a quick walk-through of the PartyRock interface, I encouraged everyone to start building right away. Something very interesting happened when the attendees began to ask questions about what sort of app they could build. My response to them was, "...ask PartyRock the question, and see what it builds for you!" That really took the room by surprise, yet at the same time gave them a better understanding of what PartyRock could do!
Most of us know body language, and how to read it. If you’ve delivered presentations before it’s safe to say that you have encountered a time when your audience just wasn't into it...no matter how long you prepared or how hard in the moment you tried to get them engaged. I’m thrilled to say that this was not one of those instances. This was an extremely energetic group. Everyone had a laptop, registered for the PartyRock app, and experimented with the app builder widgets. Some users even remixed one of the many applications available for discovery. One simple application I was able to build on the fly was a quote finder app. The app simply takes a snippet from a famous (or infamous) quote and explains the of details about the quote. With the help of a large language model, the app provides the full text of the quote, the context in which the quote was established, plus a brief bio history about its creator(s). In addition to the descriptions, I added a widget that creates an original image of the creator. The app is available to the public if you'd like to give it a quick try, or remix it into something more innovative!
PartyRock Quote Finder app

By the time we reached the 90-minute mark, and much to my delight there were lots of attendees still in the room. They continued to ask questions and experiment with PartyRock. Next time, I’ll be sure to request a 2-hour session!
What's next?! Two things. First, I would like for you to educate yourself a little about the Juneteenth holiday. One of the best resources available can be found on the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture website. The second is to start your generative AI journey by signing up and experimenting with AWS PartyRock. You'll be glad you looked further into each!

Any opinions in this post are those of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of AWS.