Highlights from the ClueCon 2017 Coder Games

16 Aug

ClueCon promotes itself as a “a conference for developers, by developers.” As a first-time attendee from sponsor Bandwidth, I have to report that the tagline is spot on. The attendees combined tech-savviness and the authentic, tech-is-cool-just-because-it-is geekiness that make hackathons a fun place to hang out. I was impressed with the developers who participated in our “One Giant Leap for AI” challenge during the ClueCon Coder Games. I especially appreciated the mix of hardware, software, and non-tech challenges (e.g., working ping pong ball catapults).

Here’s a quick introduction to our challenge, called “One Giant Leap for AI” – the best example of an AI built using Bandwidth APIs:

To communicate is human. Or is it? Automated, AI-driven systems like IVRs and chat bots have become critical customer touchpoints. For Bandwidth’s challenge, create a human experience with Bandwidth’s voice, messaging, and numbers APIs. The obvious solution would be adding sentiment analysis to a text message response or call tree. The winning demos will combine communication, the efficiency of automation, the power of data, and a human touch.”

In short, we want the future of communications to be fast, easy, scalable, personalized, and kind.

During my introduction and 2-minute “send your first SMS on a new number” demo (which worked in spite of typical hotel internet issues!), I gave away the cheat code to doing well in the challenge: use our existing building blocks, such as our use cases page and deployable code examples to get started quickly.

In just a few hours, the two finalists tackled problems that we are all, unfortunately, familiar with…robocallers and automated systems that lack empathy.

The second place finisher integrated Bandwidth’s APIs with wit.ai and Google’s Speech Recognition to create an almost-working demo that combined text-to-speech and sentiment analysis. Impressive, especially for only a few hours of time! Combining channels that customers use and expect – like messaging and phone calls – with an automated way to identify how people are feeling in real-time is a fantastic idea. (Related: Bandwidth has a simple example for an ITR (interactive text response) system that uses wit.ai on GitHub as well.)

The first-place finisher focused on robocalling and won the NES Classic based on execution. Since Bandwidth is a carrier and a software company, we care deeply about preventing illegal robocalling. (We had an internal hackathon about it last Fall.) Thinking through his frustration with the seemingly never-ending stream of robocalls that he and many others receive, he built a personal phone screener that required a caller to answer a simple math problem before the call would be transferred to his real number. In a few minutes, he had a Bandwidth account and phone number, then made a quick call and sent a message using NodeJS.

Since the conference was in the lower levels of a great venue, mobile phone service didn’t basically exist. This participant had to go up and down two flights of escalators quite a few times to test and debug throughout the day. After only a couple hours, he could block non-human callers from reaching his mobile device. Congratulations! I hope he is playing The Legend of Zelda right now.

Putting on my “day job” hat for a moment…I sat near this particular participant for much of the day. It was interesting and enjoyable for me to watch him succeed with Bandwidth’s APIs. Since my team and I are responsible for Bandwidth’s user and developer experience, we’re always eager to observe people using our APIs in real life. For the most part, his experience was smooth and he reported that he was surprised at how easy provisioning a number and setting up call forwarding were. Of course, I noticed a few opportunities for improvement that we’ve already addressed in small updates to dev.bandwidth.com

As the end of the Coder Games neared, it was fun to watch the “dangerous demos” and reflect on how APIs have made things possible with just a few lines of code instead of multi-year projects involving hardware, software, professional services, and more.

Thanks, ClueCon! Looking forward to next year!

PS A few tips for hackathon participants…

  • Brainstorm early if an event releases challenge details
  • Look at websites like Zapier and IFTTT to see what integrations are popular
  • Use existing building blocks and examples to give yourself a head start
  • Communications are easy to integrate using a company like Bandwidth
  • Don’t forget about hardware! The IoT craze has made hardware integrations easier than ever
  • AI and speech recognition are easier than you might think… check out IBM’s Watson API, for example.
Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith

Dr. Jeff Smith is a cognitive psychologist and a Director of Customer Experience at Bandwidth. Jeff’s favorite research question is, “What do you want to accomplish?” and he enjoys solving urgent, critical problems with design. Jeff loves dogs and reminds you to #adoptdontshop when looking for your new best friend.

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