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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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August 30, 2008

Quotation Day at Automating Invention

A tool is but the extension of a man's hand, and a machine is but a complex tool. And he that invents a machine augments the power of a man and the well-being of mankind.
-- Henry Ward Beecher

Our inventions mirror our secret wishes.
-- Charles H. Duell

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.
-- Jonathan Swift

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

-- Thomas A. Edison

Posted by Robert at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)
category: Miscellaneous

August 27, 2008

U.S. Patent Office to Expand and Extend "Peer to Patent"

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) plans to extend the duration and expand the scope of the "Peer to Patent" pilot program, which provides a kind of peer review for pending patent applications. So far, 31 patent applications have been examined under the relatively new program, which has been extended by another twelve months and will now include business method patent applications in addition to computer-related patent applications.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM | Comments (0)
category: Intellectual Property Law

August 24, 2008

Robot Design for the Masses

If you've ever dreamed of designing your own robot but you don't know anything about electronics, at least two options are available for you today:

- Qwerk, which Professor Illah Nourbakhsh of Carnegie Mellon University says will "democratize robot design for people intimidated by current techniques and parts"; and

- iRobot's Robot Development Kit -- the name says it all.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering

August 21, 2008

Open Source Isn't Only for Software

"Open source" isn't necessarily followed by "software" anymore. Now there's open source hardware, which usually refers to "the release of schematics, design, sizes and other information about the hardware." The philosophy of open source has already been applied to designs for hardware including CPUs, graphics cards, MP3 players, and even entire computers.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM | Comments (0)
category: Technology Industry

August 18, 2008

Does "Openness" Lead to More Innovation?

Kevin Boudreau has written an interesting paper on the question of whether making a platform "open" leads to more innovation than leaving it closed. His nuanced conclusions are worthy of attention in light of more frequent claims that purely open or closed models are the best way to promote innovation.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM | Comments (0)
category: Technology Industry

August 15, 2008

Two Heads (One Silicon, One Carbon) Are Better Than One

Using computers to automate inventing does not mean that humans become irrelevant. To the contrary, the most effective kinds of invention automation often involve cooperation between human and computer, a partnership in which each member does what it does best. Interactive evolutionary computation strives to take advantage of such synergies.

Louis von Ahn has developed a specialty in creating computer games which double as human-computer teams for solving problems that neither could solve by itself, such as:

- The ESP Game, which shows the same image to two people and requires them to type in a word describing it, ostensibly to read each others' minds, but also to create a text-searchable database of images (a problem which computer algorithm designers have yet to crack);

- Tag a Tune, a similar game using songs instead of images; and

- Verbosity, in which one player is shown a secret word and must provide clues from which a second player attempts to guess the secret word, all with the effect of creating a database of word meanings.

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

August 12, 2008

Software (Re)Invents the Wheel

Evolutionary software has invented the wheel.

Not impressed? Then consider that a circle is not the only shape which maintains a constant height when rolled across flat ground. Can you figure out what the other shapes are? If not, then don't feel bad. They were not discovered until the late 19th century. Yet an evolutionary algorithm rediscovered them in under an hour.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM
category: Artificial Invention

August 9, 2008

See Evolved LEGO Structures in Action

Check out the Brandeis DEMO (Dynamical and Evolutionary Machine Organization) web site for videos of LEGO bridges, cranes, tables, and other structures designed using evolutionary algorithms.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM
category: Artificial Invention

August 6, 2008

Combining Real and Simulated Evolution for Aircraft Design

Most of the examples of automated inventing described on this web site to date were generated using computer simulations. In contrast, Will Regan, Floris van Breugel, and Hod Lipson of Cornell University have used a combination of simulation and a real-world hardware implementation of a "hovering flapping ornithopter" -- essentially an aircraft with flapping wings -- demonstrate the feasibility of this kind of flight (which, as we all know, is not how the airplanes we know and love work). Their paper includes images of both the simulated and physical models they used.

Posted by Robert at 6:00 AM
category: Artificial Invention

August 3, 2008

Computer Game Opponents Evolve

Steffen Priesterjahn and others at the University of Paderborn in Germany have used evolutionary algorithms to generate smarter computer players for the game Quake 3. They generated a set of players which played with an initial set of strategies, then played them against the standard computer opponent. The strategies of the best-performing players were combined (mated) with each other to produce offspring, some of which were also mutated. After multiple generations this evolutionary process created computer players that were significantly more difficult for human players to beat.

Posted by Robert at 6:30 AM
category: Artificial Invention