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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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July 31, 2008

Programming Requires Technical Skill; Scratch That -- Anyone Can Do It

MIT's Media Lab has developed Scratch, a programming language designed to be easy enough for people without any technical skills to "create and share video games and animated stories." It has become particularly popular among children aged 8-15. Scratch, which is available for free download, "uses a simple set of modular building blocks that can be dragged into place and snapped together on a computer screen like Lego bricks, to create simple computer programs and animations." Over 160,000 projects created using Scratch have been upload to the Scratch web site in the year since Scratch was made publicly available.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM
category: Design & Engineering

Automated Invention of a Thrombin Inhibitor

Matrix Advanced Solutions has used its "artificial creativity" software to create an orally-available thrombin inhibitor to act as an anticoagulant. The thrombin inhibitor, which was developed without the use of any expert knowledge, is now in pre-clinical trials.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

July 28, 2008

Automating Marketing

Affinnova, Inc. has used its "evolutionary optimization" technology to help its clients optimize ad strategies, product package designs, and product promotions. For example, the company used its software to develop a new logo for Cadbury-Scweppe's 7-Up soft drink by displaying millions of possible combinations of design elements (such as backgrounds, color schemes, and logo placements) to consumers in an online selection process which "evolved" the logo in response to consumer preferences.

Posted by Robert at 10:00 AM
category: Artificial Invention

July 26, 2008

Forgetful? Just Upgrade Your Memory

Have you ever referred to Google's search engine as your "backup memory"? Clive Thompson calls it his "outboard brain." Both metaphors are apt. Forget the name of that Japanese restaurant that opened last year down the street? No worries. It's just a few keystrokes away. The director of your favorite movie? Just as easy. I've reached the point where if I forget the meaning of a word while at my desk I'll look up the definition online rather than reach a few feet further for a hardbound dictionary, and not just because I'm lazy - the former has finally become faster than the latter.

Someday it may be possible to have a chip implanted in your skull which will achieve the same effect. We shouldn't, however, make too much of the difference between internal and external memory enhancements (as Andy Clark argues eloquently in Natural-Born Cyborgs). Both kinds of upgrade enhance our recall and influence our behavior. Admit it - you've looked up a fact on Google while on a phone call and inserted that fact into the conversation without confessing to the ruse. To an external observer, there is no difference between a sharper you and the same old you with a high-speed Internet connection.

One you come to rely on the ready availability of technological memory boosters, you may become less inclined to expend energy memorizing facts, just as books reduced the incentive for people to memorize Homer's Iliad. After all, anything you forget is within arm's reach. Clive Thompson, in the article mentioned above, points to a study by neuroscientist Ian Robertson which found evidence of this trend: fewer than 40 percent of respondents to a survey could remember a relative's birthday, while 87 percent of people over 50 could do so.

Inventors who harness invention-automation technology experience similar effects on their inventive abilities. A novice engineer can effectively boost his inventive skill level to equal that of a more experienced inventor by using automated tools which can explore pathways he would not otherwise have considered. Experienced designers can relegate the low-level details of design to software, just as we relegate fact-finding to search engines. The result: human inventors whose creativity has been augmented by computers, with no chip implant required.

Posted by Robert at 6:57 PM
category: Human Creativity