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Automating Invention is Robert Plotkin's blog on the impact of computer-automated inventing on the future of invention and patent law.

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January 22, 2006

Computer Science Cuts Across Disciplines

An article entitled "Computer Science Growing Into a Basic Science" describes how increases in computing power are fueling the use of computers "to solve fundamental problems across physical, chemical, biological, engineering, medical and social sciences," and includes several concrete examples.

Posted by Robert at 9:24 PM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

January 17, 2006

Book: When Computers Were Human

The following is from the publisher's web page for the book When Computers Were Human by David Alan Grier:

Before Palm Pilots and iPods, PCs and laptops, the term "computer" referred to the people who did scientific calculations by hand. These workers were neither calculating geniuses nor idiot savants but knowledgeable people who, in other circumstances, might have become scientists in their own right. When Computers Were Human represents the first in-depth account of this little-known, 200-year epoch in the history of science and technology.

It looks like a good read. And the topic certainly raises the question, if "computer," "compiler," and "assembler" once referred to people but now refer to computer hardware and software, will "programmer" be next?

Posted by Robert at 8:14 AM | Comments (0)
category: History of Computing

January 16, 2006

European Software Patent Directive Rises From the Ashes?

See Computer Weekly coverage and the European Commission web page for the new Consultation on Future Patent Policy in Europe.

Posted by Robert at 5:58 PM | Comments (0)
category: Software Patents

Thoughts on Software Design Automation from 32 Years Ago

The January 2006 issue of IEEE Computer magazine has the following quote from the same magazine in January 1974:

Because of the expense it is not practical to develop design-specific D[esign] A[utomation] systems. Designers of DA systems are thus confronted with the task of building 'large, generalized, flexible' (software) systems with very little design assistance from the computer. If only we had systems which apply the computer and computer techniques to automate (or at least facilitate) the design of software: software design automation! Unfortunately, while the theory underlying the application of comptuers in the design of computing hardware has developed thoroughly, keeping pace (or nearly so) with the developing technology, the implementation of this theory remains a difficult, mostly manual exercise in the design of programs and programming systems.

Posted by Robert at 9:21 AM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

January 12, 2006

Norbert Weiner on Computer Automation and Work

I've written several entries on the ways in which one economic effect of computer automation is to drive people to develop and market skills that have not yet been automated. Just to make clear that this topic is far from new, and that it has ethical as well as economic implications, consider the following statement about the human impact of computer automation from Norbert Weiner's 1950 book The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society:

We were here in the presence of another social potentiality of unheard-of importance for good and for evil.... It [technology] gives the human race a new and most effective collection of mechanical slaves to perform its labor.... However, any labor that accepts the conditions of competition with slave labor accepts the conditions of slave labor, and is essentially slave labor.... However, taking the second [industrial] revolution as accomplished, the average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that is worth anyone's money to buy. The answer, of course, is to have a society based on human values other than buying or selling.

Just some food for thought from a half-century ago.

Posted by Robert at 7:15 AM | Comments (0)
category: Ethics | Work

January 11, 2006

IT Workers Increasingly Need "People" Skills

To be successful in the IT industry 20 years ago all you needed were computer skills. Now, if you want job security in IT you will need to "hone your business and project-management skills," according to this article from InformationWeek. If this sounds familiar to you, it may be because I've harped on this point several times before (such as here and here).

The challenge not only for IT workers, but for everyone, is to stay one step ahead of automation. Blacksmiths and millwrights learned this lesson the hard way a long time ago, but the "high-tech" workers of today (who are quickly becoming the "low-tech" workers of tomorrow) seem to just be getting the point.

Posted by Robert at 3:14 PM | Comments (0)
category: Work

U.S. Patent Office Takes Steps to Improve Software Patent Quality

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced that it has partnered with members of the open source community to expand the access that patent examiners have to "prior art" (such as existing software patents and other documentation of existing software) in an effort to improve software patent quality. The partnership also agreed "to develop a system to alert the public when USPTO publishes certain software-related applications so that interested parties can submit related prior art in accordance with relevant rules and law; and, to explore developing additional criteria for measuring the quality of software patents."

Posted by Robert at 8:36 AM | Comments (0)
category: Software Patents

January 4, 2006

Quantum Computing Comes One Step Closer

ACD points out that the IQOQI (Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information) in Austria has produced the first "quantum byte," consisting of 8 Calcium ions. This development brings the "quantum computer" closer to becoming a reality.

According to the current Wikipedia entry for "quantum computer," "It is widely believed that if large-scale quantum computers can be built, they will be able to solve certain problems faster than any classical computer." The implications for artificial invention are clear. Most of the software that is being used for artificial inventing relies on powerful computers and, perhaps more importantly, provides better results when run on even more powerful computers. As a result, people in the field are always seeking more powerful computers at lower cost. Why design better software when you can improve your results just by running the same software on a more powerful computer?

John Koza began using a 1,000-Pentium computer back in 1999 to run genetic algorithms for (among other things) inventing new hardware and software (see photo). Although today's computers can provide the same performance for about 1/10th of the price of Koza's 1999 system, he was able to achieve impressive results using the technology that was available at the time. Fully quantum computers, if they were to become possible, could take this forward by (pun fully intended) a quantum leap.

Posted by Robert at 6:57 PM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

Software Patent Application Filings on the Rise in India

The Business Standard reports that over 2,000 software patent applications were filed in India in 2005, as many as the years 2000-2003 combined.

Posted by Robert at 1:45 PM | Comments (1)
category: Software Patents