Artificial Intelligence and Sweat

AI Researchers and founders climbing peaks

In May this year 2017, 18 AI Researchers and Founders reached the third summit of the ThreePeaksChallenge in the UK. These peaks were reached in less than 24 hours.

The team was driven to achieve this challenge for a great cause — help save lives from malaria in emerging countries. Raising funds for the Against Malaria Foundation, their actions saved 3 lives!!! —

As an outdoor addict, and building my own company WILD in Sports Performance using AI, I was immediately appealed by the idea when Matt from @EntrepreneurFirst extended the invitation to our Entrepreneurial cohort, “EF8” — the 8th cohort of EntrepreneurFirst.

The idea was simple. The London AI community is relatively small and hardly ever connects outdoors. While the community is very data-centric and are keen self-quantifiers, outdoor challenges aren’t the most frequent to say the least.

Jordan Burgess, a then Senior Machine Learning Engineer at Bloomsbury AI, wanted to build stronger ties within this community, leading to the birth of Peak AI.

The challenge consists of climbing the 3 highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales (Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon) in less than 24 hours.

Peak #1 — Ben Nevis (The Frozen)

Part of the group arrived on Friday in Glasgow. Alejandro, one of our Mexicans, arrived with a light sports jacket on…“What? We’re climbing a mountain???” — thankfully he was able to find a proper mountain gear to climb the snowed-covered peak of Ben Nevis.

After a good nights sleep, we collected the rest of the group arriving from London on Saturday morning at the airport. From there, we headed to Fort Williams. Some shopping, a power lunch and an intense debate around whether or not to get crampons to reach the top…and off we were! Our two vans, packed with the 18 of us, heading towards our first summit.

Start of the climb at 5:30pm. It’s a steady and nice journey up. Discussions about reinforcement learning, neural networks and Gaussian models disrupt the usual discussions of hikers that tend to circle around food and blisters.

We had the brilliant idea to take a guide for the first climb. The higher we climbed, the worst the weather was getting. Strong winds and a snowed cap were the perfect recipe for a “welcoming” snow storm.

Following our guide and trying to keep really close to each other, some started to feel the pain of our 1,400m ascent, relentlessly swallowing energy gels and bars. It started to get tough, slippery, and pretty tiring. But the mood was good. No one was left behind, we pushed the pack to remain together, Lorenz playing a lead role here!

We finally reached an extremely windy top with no view whatsoever. But a nice rocky top. We unfolded the banner, took a picture for our great sponsors, and started our descent to the base — this was only the first of the 3 peaks.

Spirits were high and everyone even started sleighing down the snowed peak on their bums…speeding down! I stayed behind with Lorenz to make sure we didn’t lose anyone in the snow storm.

Some of us, blown away by our first achievement and surrounding wild beauty, got excited and started jobbing down. Jordan, the guide and I were happily trotting downhill. It also started to be pretty cold. And dark. Pitch dark. We all had head torches, and the scenery was pretty spectacular with these little lights sliding and jumping in the darkness.

Going down Ben Nevis at night

Ben Nevis done!! Slightly faster than expected. We quickly got changed into dry clothes, trying to hide naked parts of our bodies, jumped in our buses, and off we went.

Peak #2 — Scafell (The Windy)

After a 5h30 drive, we finally reached our next base: Scafell. It was cosy and warm in the van, but not exactly comfortable. I had 3 seats to sleep on, but couldn’t find a single position to fall asleep. Similar to a game of Tetris, each body in the van was trying to fit in the void left by the other…on the floor at 90 degrees, legs between seats, body parts on top of each other. Wonder if Deepminds’ deep artificial neural networks and reinforcement learning they used to crack Atari could have helped us here. Had someone taken a picture, one could have easily thought we were playing a game of Twister… Needless to say that I’ve been unable to sleep during the entire trip, just as most of the others.

We eventually reached Scafell’s shortly after damn, welcomed by a beautiful blue sky with pink strips. Without losing any time, we geared up and promptly started making our way towards the summit. It’s a fairly easy climb up at the beginning, but the latter part ahead of the summit is pretty aggressive.

Alessandro and Shaun racing to the top After crossing a river, the serious climbing really starts. Tiny rocks made our path more than slippery as we ascend, while extreme winds restrained us from staying in line.

“Ideal” conditions after staying up all night…but as I shot myself with tons of expresso gels, my energy levels started recovering.

Unfortunately, 3 PeakAIers had to call it quits on the way. Their knees had suffered from Ben Nevis’s climb... The rest of the team kept going to reach the peak as a reduced pack. We were happily surprised by how quickly we reached it! Once again, we took our banner out, took a quick group picture, folded it back and promptly made our way down.

I got quite enthusiastic towards the end, and started running with a few others to reach the vans earlier, psyched and all pumped up!!! Did we already complete the second peak?

Peak #3 — Snowdon (The Technical Beast)

Again, we changed, packed up, and boarded the vans. This time I decided to go in the smaller van — big mistake as, for some reason, an annoying beep went off every 5 minutes. Regardless, I collapsed on the floor and fell asleep within minutes…Not the most comfortable rest, but certainly well needed.

Freddy, Raza, Tim Stacked in the bus It’s a long and bumpy road, but landscapes are fabulous. We reach the bottom of Snowdon after a 4h30 of drive. We put our climbing gear, grab our poles, fill our water bladders for the last time. And off we go.

We’re too tight to go up and down within the 24h window, due to our drivers having to take certain compulsory long rest stops on the way. We estimate that reaching the 3rd summit under 24h is good enough. But we still would need to rush to make it on time.

We decide that the ones able to rush should do it, so the group would “make it”. Shaun, Rowen and I started climbing at a good pace.

We’re joined mid way by Alessandro. I get lagged at about 75% of the climb, and the guys even run to reach the top. Rowen encourages me from above, but it really seems longer than what he says.

This is by far the most technical climb for me, with lots of areas out of path, with actual rock climbing. There’s an easy route, but it’s not the one we’ve taken... The last few meters are more steady though, and I run a bit to reach the first ones. We did it!! 3 Peaks under 24 hours!!!

We’re shattered, smelly, and can’t believe we made it to the top. All of us arrive one after the other, most of the pack under 24h. Laura, Peak AI’s co-founder and sole other girl of the group, arrives and magically pulls a bottle of Champagne from her bag.

Laura and her bottle at the final summit! — With Thomas, Freddy, Jordan We take the banner out, take our last picture, hug each other. It’s very windy, we had some slight rain, it’s also very cold. But we’re grouped like a hord of penguins, protecting each other from the harshness of the wilderness.

The survivors

The view is breathtaking and marked by numerous lakes down the mountain. Our Peak-AIers did it. Brotherhood, sweat, fatigue, Ai discussions and our drive to make a difference to people living in Malaria infected regions, made us complete this exciting challenge.

And it’s time to go down. Reach our hostel to the celebration we’ve been waiting for. It’s a nice walk down, as we don’t rush anymore. We speak about life, how to measure all our feelings, exacerbate those, quantify it all. How to understand the purpose of life, properly. And how to use Ai to live a better life. How it would impact our society and how we should take advantage of it.

We held lengthy exchanges on the human brain. How by exercising, practising sports, meditation, yoga, we can reach new hidden parts of our minds. By pushing our boundaries, understand ourselves better. It’s a unexpected discovery for me. I always had my two worlds of mathematics and psychology separated. I always thought engineers and intellectuals were two worlds apart. But the Ai world is both. Deep engineers that constantly think and push their intellectual limits to apply their algorithms to their thoughts. I’m blown away by the depth each and everyone of us has been thinking about life.

As we reach the lakes, my obsession with endurance sports and more specifically wild water swimming kicks in. A normal group of people would go straight to the hostel, certainly not jumping into Wales’s freezing lake after more than 24 hours of exercise. But the suggestion is wildly accepted. We stripped down and jumped without thinking twice into the deep lake. It’s the best present we could do to our bodies.

Snowdon’s deliciously fresh water, waiting for our tired, half naked bodies After an evening of celebrations, we head back to London, sad to be separated from my newly adopted PeakAI friends!

Connected by this intense human experience, we however regather two long weeks later — and this time with many more PeakAI supporters— for a dinner hosted by Balderton Capital. The night finishes late. 50 people were at the dinner, all pledging to take part to next year’s PeakAI!!!

It was the first PeakAi. But certainly not the last. We’re already speaking about climbing another summit, Kilimanjaro or perhaps one day some Himalayan summits. It may be a multi-stage challenge, combining some sports, climbing, kayaking, and swimming? Or perhaps a sailing trip?

With the great support of all our friends and family, we saved 3 lives from Malaria. EntrepreneurFirst not only provided us with most of our participants, but also sponsored part of the challenge alongside Bloomsbury AI and Balderton Capital.

We’re planning our next dinner and training soon, and got great traction from a wide spectrum of AI-interested organisations, of which CogX, the AI conference in London who wants us to present our project.

Onwards and Upwards, PeakAI!!!

Helene is the co-founder and CEO of WILD, a data-driven race discovery and training platform for runners, cyclists and swimmers of all levels, using AI. Helping people be healthier by being more active is in the DNA of the company, which puts an emphasis on supporting health and child literacy initiatives. She’s also in the founding team of PeakAI and a massive supporter of the AI community.

Thanks to Jordan Burgess, the founder of PeakAI, and the people who have been instrumental in the organisation, Laura, Shaun, Julio, Raza, Pyry, and all the Peak-AI climbers: Aleksandar, Alejandro, Alessandro, Calvin, Feras, Freddy, Lorenz, Matt, Max, Pradeep, Rowan, Thomas Stone, Tim, Tobias!

Thanks as well to all our sponsors, Entrepreneur First , Bloomsbury AI and Anna Boffetta from @Balderton Capital and Ben Goldsmith — as well as later, CognitionX !

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