A Fallen Idol…
“How can he !! ” , “He can’t do this, come on !!”, “This is so ridiculous to be true !!” – These were my initial reaction when I came across a FB group post just before going to dinner yesterday. The post had a reddit link which was about Siraj Raval plagiarizing a research paper !!
As I sat at my dinner table and started going through the reddit thread and the original twitter link it became more clear that this was a serious stuff. My original disbelief turned into anger… not because he had indeed plagiarized but because he was my inspiration in my initial days… and I felt let down by my idol.
It was just 20 days back when Siraj Raval was in midst of another ugly controversy around scamming students through his “worthless” course. At that time, I was in denial and remained silent throughout the episode because a part inside me wanted to believe that it was a mistake with honest intention. I refrained from commenting on any social platform.
But this time around, it was very clear that Siraj was not the guy he wanted us to believe.. feeling betrayed I lashed out my anger at all possible social media in form of comments and trolls till I went to sleep late at night.
This morning when I woke up, my phone was filled with notifications from various twitter and FB posts where I had raged my anger the previous night.
I sat down with my morning tea and went through last night posts and comments. As I gathered my senses and reflected on the entire episode with calmness the question popped into my mind – What if “Siraj Raval” never existed !!
What if “Siraj Raval” did not exist ?
Way back in 2014, as a data engineer who got bored with only creating data pipelines I was wondering what other exciting thing can I do with data. I came across something known as data mining, machine learning. Creating an artificial intelligence from data looked so cool.
I got some of the real gem of books on Data Mining and Machine Learning for self study but when I opened them all I saw was scary mathematical symbols and equations staring back at me !! For a person who had left college 5 years earlier and hardly remember any graduation level maths it was a big bummer. Feeling demotivated I just gave up !!
Remember it was early 2014, the hype of AI, ML, Data Science was yet to hit popular media. ( In fact it was the beginning of hype of Big Data and Hadoop !! ). There was hardly any YouTube tutorials,blogs or easy to use books on this subject like now.
Then in mid of 2015, with the bug of ML still in me, I enrolled my self into part-time 2 years post graduation course for working professionals like me. My main intention was to learn Data Mining and Machine Learning through academics and then apply it practically in my project.
In 2016, after crossing 2 semesters and covering ML, Data Mining, Information Retrieval, I found myself with just enough knowledge where I just knew some gibberish terms. The teaching was superficial and not so motivating. At the same time I was doing this with my full time job, so for me it had just became a game of passing the exams without learning much !!
The fact that after investing so much money in this PG course and coming out with only superficial knowledge without any clue on how to apply these algorithms practically in real world problem.. it was so much demotivating for me !!
YouTube Algorithm pops up Siraj Raval
One fine day of June 2016, YouTube decided to suggest me a video whose title read – “Build A Neural Network in 4 minutes”. It sounded like a click bait, yet I opened and found a cool looking guy enthusiastically explaining a neural network and typing code with lightning fast speed under 4 mins.
It did not took me long to go through all his videos till that point of time which included fancy titles and some cool production. Looking at his videos… I felt like a young excited kid.. I was like.. I want to do this myself !!
Just have a look at these video list names and tell me if you were in my place would you also have not felt excited like a child ?
- Sentiment Analysis in 4 Minutes
- Your First ML App – Machine Learning for Hackers #1
- Build an AI Composer – Machine Learning for Hackers #2
- Build a Game AI – Machine Learning for Hackers #3
- Build a Movie Recommender – Machine Learning for Hackers #4
- Build an AI Artist – Machine Learning for Hackers #5
- Build a Chatbot – ML for Hackers #6
- Build an AI Reader – Machine Learning for Hackers #7
- Build an AI Writer – Machine Learning for Hackers #8
To be honest I did not understand much from his videos at that time which I thought was due to my lack of knowledge. But there was a guy with cool looking hair and equally cool & fun videos showing us the non academic and practical side of AI, it looked so refreshing!!
After seeing his videos I felt motivated for the first time in my journey of previous two years to learn AI and ML. I thought I should carry on with my quest of ML knowledge if I indeed wanted to do something as cool as what he was showing in his videos!!
Why “Siraj Raval” is a Necessity
Subsequently I started following Siraj’s videos closely and it always used to inspire and motivate me further to hustle and self learn ML and python. Honestly his videos used to be too short to understand concept fully yet I could take away some key words which I used (try) to self study.
Coincidentally we were entering the hype of AI in 2017 onward. There were more people getting attracted to machine learning due to AI hype in media.
Easy to follow machine learning material started becoming more prevalent – now there were more YouTube channels, books and blogs on AI/ML/DS (which were not there in 2014).
Siraj was not the only AI person on YouTube.. yet he was becoming more popular than ever before among newbies. (Meanwhile veterans in the ML community were raising eyebrows because they could see serious issues and gaps with Siraj which new comers could not !! )
Let me explain you why he was growing popular at exponential rate.
Currently there are two distinct groups in the growing ML community –
- The Purists – These are people who are true machine learning veterans, researchers, scholars, academicians who existed before the AI hype and will continue to exist irrespective of AI hype. They believe there is no short cut to ML and ML is first mathematics and then a python or R library.
- Insecure Shortcut People – These are the people who have left behind academics way long back but are influenced by current AI hype. These include working professional in mid career and even freshers. They are insecure of job loss, peer pressure, company pressure or pressure from AI hype of media. They don’t have much time or resources to get their maths or statistics right. They are happy if someone can just show how to run python or R code superficially for doing machine learning and data science. They are looking for shortcuts.
Both groups are right in their own way.
- Imagine a purist who has dedicated years of hard work in machine learning seeing a noob who only knows scikit learn package yet claiming he knows machine learning. Purist has all the right to feel offended with such people !!
- But the guys who are looking for shortcut should not be judged either. They are insecure under AI hype.. they need to act fast else they will loose opportunity in market. But when they try to go traditional way they feel highly demotivated due to such a steep learning curve.
(I can empathize with the later group. Even though I was not under AI hype way back in 2014 I felt so demotivated myself with the learning curve)
These insecure bunch of short cut guys needs motivation and belief that they can ride the wave of AI in market.
This is why “Siraj Raval” is a necessity. Majority of Siraj Raval’s audience consists of these insecure or demotivated people (I was one of them initially) who just want a belief and assurance that ML is not as hard as what those scary looking purist’s books suggests. It is fun and easy and can be achieved by shortcuts.
It is this belief that Siraj has instilled in people that has inspired and motivated many of his followers to pursue AI. Beginners do not give a damn if the code which he is showing has been picked from other’s github.. they just need some one to take them to promise land of AI
Even in my case, I needed that motivation and belief way back in 2016 during my times of misery. Though now I do realize that at that time his videos did not made sense to me not because I was lacking knowledge… it was because they were indeed shallow !!
But I was still fine with this because I looked at Siraj more as an AI influencer than an educator. As an AI influencer, he still had a global reach for the betterment of beginner’s community. School of AI was one such initiative.
We still need “Siraj Ravals”
Siraj Raval the brand is tarnished. It is not because he wanted to make money with this AI wave. He is not the only one.. there are plenty of educators and institutes making money and it is not entirely wrong.
The brand is finished because with the course scam and plagiarism scandal happening within 20 days of each other, he has fallen down in front of both purists and insecure shortcut people. And from the entire saga he has emerged as a person who was not genuine.
And as a fan who once got inspired by him.. I really feel disappointed and upset .
I might sound contradicting, yet we need more of “Siraj Ravals” who can inspire and motivate underdogs to enter the world of AI with a belief that they too can do it..
(Disclaimer – These are my personal view over here and I don’t wish to hurt sentiments of any member of ML community either veterans or beginners. My only intention with this article was to let people know a perspective from Siraj’s fan who followed him since his early days)