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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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September 30, 2008

Relaunch of Automating Invention!

Automating Invention has been relaunched with a sparkling new design, updated links to related web sites, and a variety of new features including the ability to:

  • share blog postings via email and any of your favorite social networking sites, courtesy of ShareThis.
  • post comments (comment spam had caused me to turn off this feature in the past);
  • subscribe to blog postings by email, courtesy of Bot a Blog.
Stay tuned for more frequent blog postings on invention automating, and updates on my upcoming book from Stanford University Press, The Genie in the Machine.

Posted by Robert at 7:30 PM | Comments (0)
category: History of Computing

September 28, 2008

World Day Against Software Patents

"A global coalition of more than 80 software companies, associations, and developers has declared the 24th of September to be the 'World Day Against Software Patents.'"  What members of the coalition don't seem to recognize is that software patents can't be prohibited per se, without as a side-effect also prohibiting a wide range of non-software patents that most people would agree should be allowed.

One way to understand this is to recognize that, in the real world, software is always implemented in hardware, such as by changing the states of switches in a computer's memory.  This makes it impossible to draw the distinction between patentable hardware and non-patentable software based on a distinction between the physical and the non-physical.  Attempts to render devices which "merely process information" as non-patentable would rule out devices such as mechanical calculators which have long been considered to be patentable.

This is not to say that all software should be patentable, or that patent law does not need to adapt to software in any way, only that a per se ban on software patents has no principled basis and that efforts to enact such a ban only serve to deflect attention from more nuanced and productive solutions.

Posted by Robert at 9:40 PM | Comments (0)
category: Intellectual Property Law

September 27, 2008

Vernor Vinge on the Future of Human-Machine Intelligence

In a New York Times article, Vernor Vinge discusses his latest novel, Rainbows End, and whether increased machine intelligence will enable computers to leave humans behind or enable humans to increase their own intelligence by partnering with computers.


Posted by Robert at 8:29 PM | Comments (0)
category: Human Creativity

September 11, 2008

Evolutionary Computation Solves Century-Old Algebra Problem

Professor Lee Spector and others at Hampshire College used evolutionary computation "to solve a century-old algebra problem far faster and more efficiently than any past efforts of humans or machines." The problem involved finding formulas useful for designing electronic switching circuits. Although previous solutions had been found, such methods resulted in formulas that were so large that they were useless in practice. In contrast, Professor Spector's evolutionary computation-based technique found useful formulas containing fewer than 300 characters in a few hours of computing time.

Posted by Robert at 7:32 PM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

September 8, 2008

Localized Modularization

Arnold Brown mentions a relatively new business process emerging in China called "localized modularization" in his article, "The New Biology Paradigm" (The Futurist, September-October 2008). According to Brown, manufacturers who use localized modularization do not dictate to their suppliers every detail of the parts they want manufactured. Instead, the manufacturer "specifies only key features, such as size and weight, letting the supplier's designers figure out the rest, thus enabling quicker changes and adaptation." He notes that Longxin and Zongshen now use localized modularization to make half of the world's motorcycles.

Modularization facilitates de-coupling of functional modules. Once that de-coupling is achieved, the modules on either side of the equation can be automated without affecting the other. Therefore, localized modularization looks like it is poised to facilitate automation of the modules that are localized.

Posted by Robert at 7:12 PM | Comments (0)
category: Technology Industry

September 5, 2008

Programming Biology

"Little b," a "new computer language for modeling biological phenomen[a,] can 'think' like cells and molecular mechanisms think, thereby simulating the dynamics of biological phenomen[a]." A team of Harvard Medical School researchers created Little b to be capable of "describ[ing] biology in the same way a biologist would." According to Jeremy Gunawardena, director of the Virtual Cell Program at Harvard Medical school, "This opens the door to actually performing discovery science, to look at things like drug interactions, right on the computer."

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

September 2, 2008

Evolutionary Computation Community Experiences Explosive Growth

Gregory Hornby and Tina Yu have published the "Results of the First Survey of Practitioners of Evolutionary Computation," which reveals that "in recent years there has been an explosion not only in the different types of biologically inspired algorithms, but also in the number of practitioners in the field." The survey also found that the biggest obstacle for the acceptance of evolutionary computation in industry is that it is poorly understood. The survey was conducted in 2005-2006 by posting 14 survey questions on the web site of the Special Interest Group on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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