Seniors coordinate national AI competition


Priya Maraliga

Seniors Henry Zhang and Divyansh Shivashok are hosting a national AI competition called Liftoff 2021.

Sophia Murray, Assistant News Editor

Seniors Henry Zhang and Divyansh Shivashok, the president and vice president of the SAILea (Scholastic Artificial Intelligence League), will host a national AI competition through Discord for all students in high school or below called Liftoff 2021

The contest will be held on Saturday, Nov. 20 from 12:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and it will be broken up into two rounds: one for AI and one for programming. Participants are welcome to compete individually or in teams of up to four people at no cost. 

SAILea is a student-run organization that works toward spreading resources and excitement about artificial intelligence beyond the walls of Algonquin. Zhang describes SAILea as “DECA for artificial intelligence.” While the contest is hosted by SAILea and not the AI club, many members of the AI club are involved in both. 

“Traditionally, when you have a programming competition, you’re given a few tasks, and you have to write a certain solution for it that runs in a certain amount of time and passes a certain number of test cases,” Zhang said. “In this case, you’re not going to be writing a perfect solution. The idea is to make a good enough solution.”

Each round is to be three hours long with three specific tasks to complete. In the AI round, teams will write a bot that can play games and compete against other teams. In the programming round, teams will be required to find a solution that attains the highest possible score for each problem. 

According to Shivashok, the contest differs from most others because it is aimed specifically towards high school students, keeping in mind skill level and experience. 

“If you think about it, there aren’t many AI competitions available to high schoolers,” Shivashok said. “The demographics for AI competitions are not usually to high schoolers, so this competition is specific to high schoolers, and those problems can be approached by them.” 

When creating Liftoff, Shivashok and Zhang were inspired by CMIMC (Carnegie Mellon Informatics and Mathematics Competition), a competition at Carnegie Mellon University that they competed in during the spring. For both CMIMC and Liftoff, the goal is more about inspiring young coders than being competitive. 

“Even if you are a beginner at coding, you can give it a shot and see how well you do,” Zhang said. “It’s for fun; there is some competition to it, but it really is for fun.”

“You don’t realize how much goes into [organizing] a competition until you try to do it,” Shivashok said. “You have to build a website, think of test cases, get sponsors, a lot of stuff.”

Because some of the tasks associated with creating a competition are more advanced than what Shivashok and Zhang felt comfortable doing, they invited Algonquin alumnus Tejas Maraliga to assist with creating the website. 

“He agreed to help us a lot, with the infrastructure, the website and the backend,” Zhang said. “This could not be possible without him, so a big thank you to him.”

Computer Science teacher Dan Forhan, who is the adviser of the AI club, has witnessed the extensive amount of effort put into creating the competition so far. 

“The students have been working very hard, and they have been doing presentations about AI at the club meetings, but they have also been spending a great deal of time planning this competition, and I know they are very excited about the launch,” Forhan said.

There is still much to be done before competition day, such as finishing some of the coding, perfecting systems on the backend and advertising. Shivashok and Zhang are both looking forward to competition, hoping for a good number of students who want to compete. 

“Personally, I am very excited about the community Discord,” Shivashok said. “I’ve had experience going to competitions over Discord and seeing how they bring so many people together in one community.”

Despite the heavy workload, both Shivashok and Zhang have enjoyed the journey because of their passions for AI and programming. 

“People anticipate meeting aliens one day, and wonder what that’s going to be like, but if you can create them with your own two hands, then you don’t have to wait for that day,” Zhang said.

“AI is getting so interwoven with programming these days, you just can’t help but get into it, eventually,” Shivashok said. 

Forhan said this competition will be a great opportunity for students to expand their knowledge in AI and try something new.

“I think the students will learn a lot about taking on a challenge and meeting that challenge because organizing an event like this is very involved,” said Forhan. “There can be a lot of unanticipated things that can happen during the event, so I’m sure the students will learn a lot about planning a specific event. Also, as I said before, they will learn about meeting a challenge.”

Registration for the event closes on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Students interested in learning more about the contest or signing up to compete can find all necessary information on the Liftoff website