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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 31, 2009

Recreating the Mona Lisa

Swedish programmer Roger Alsing has published an example of genetic programming which evolves a set of randomly placed polygons into an image of the Mona Lisa. Alsing's algorithm starts with the set of random polygons on a black background, then iteratively tests and adjusts them against a final image. After about a million iterations, the polygons are rearranged to resemble the final image. There is some controversy as to whether this can be called genetic programming, or represents a variation of known procedures such as the hillclimbing algorithm. In any case, the results are impressive.

Read Roger Alsing's response to questions about his program on his FAQ page. Commentary on the program can be read on the Pharyngula and io9 blogs.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)
category: Evolutionary Computation

January 29, 2009

Thinking, Self-Developing Robots

Brainstorm, heralded as the world's first "complete cognitive software system for robots", has been announced by the Institute of Robotics (iRobis) in Scandinavia. Brainstorm is capable of generating control programs for any robot on which it is installed. Built upon a methodology called "genetic programming" (GP) which enables robots to be turned into self-developing, adaptive, problem-solving machines, Brainstorm is the first commercially available system of its type. The next step for iRobis is working with early commercial adopters and researchers to develop prototypes which use Brainstorm.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 2:52 AM | Comments (0)
category: Evolutionary Computation

January 27, 2009

GIVE: Human Gamers vs. AI Systems

Northwestern University and an international team of researchers have created an online game which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to challenge players to solve a virtual treasure hunt. Players who visit the GIVE (Generating Instructions in Virtual Environments) game website until the end of January have the opportunity to play the game and provide feedback on how well the system provided instructions. According to Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University's Center for Technology and Social Behavior, the feedback will be used to help improve NLG (natural language generation) system design.

The GIVE game is part of a growing trend in AI research to allow Internet users to participate in AI system assessment.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 2:46 AM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

January 25, 2009

The Search for Code-Free App Builders

InfoWorld reports on the search by many business managers for cheap, do-it-yourself development tools which will allow them to sidestep IT organizations and implement their own business applications. Tools such as Coghead, Caspio, Zoho and Wufoo are the latest incarnations of frameworks which promise code-free implementation of applications. It remains to be seen whether the Holy Grail of codeless development is within the reach of business managers.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 2:38 AM | Comments (0)
category: Technology Industry | Work

January 23, 2009

QED by Computer

New computer tools could revolutionize the field of mathematics by assisting in the development of nearly infallible proofs of mathematical theorems. Up until now, traditional proofs allowed many inferences to be glossed over or omitted, leaving determination of the correctness of a theorem up to the scrutiny of other mathematicians. A series of articles by leading experts published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society describe the use of computer assistants in the development of "formal proofs" which provide checks for every logical inference in a mathematical theorem.

If computer proof assistants come into widespread use, formal proofs of the central significant theorems of mathematics may be possible. Thomas C. Hales likens this possibility to "the sequencing of the mathematical genome."

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 2:23 AM | Comments (0)
category: Philosophy of Computing

January 21, 2009

U.S. Ruling on Business Method Patents

In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled that business methods which are not tied to a specific machine or which do not perform a physical transformation cannot be patented.  The case was closely watched and has been heralded by some as the death knell for software patents.

Those who interpret Bilski to render software unpatentable must have read a different opinion than I did.  Does the following sound like a court that has decided that software is not patentable?

  • "[A]lthough invited to do so by several amici, we decline to adopt a broad exclusion over software or any other such category of subject matter beyond the exclusion of claims drawn to fundamental principles set forth by the Supreme Court."
  • "[T]the process claim at issue in this appeal is not, in any event, a software claim. Thus, the facts here would be largely unhelpful in illuminating the distinctions between those software claims that are patent-eligible and those that are not."
The Bilski case did not involve a software patent claim.  Instead, the case involved a claim (for a method for "managing the consumption risk costs of a commodity") which did not specify that a computer or other machine performed the method.  Therefore, the primary issue before the CAFC was whether such a claim could qualify as patentable subject matter.  The CAFC concluded that it could not because the subject matter of the claim was not "tied to a particular machine" and did not "transform a particular article into a different state or thing."

There is substantial precedent from both the CAFC and the U.S. Supreme Court which is consistent with the conclusion that a wide variety of software patent claims satisfy this "machine or transformation" test.  That is not to say that all software patent claims qualify as patentable subject matter or that the Bilski opinion will not be interpreted within the CAFC, in the district courts, or within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to modify the standard of patentability for software.  Such changes, however, will likely be subtle and play out over time in a wide variety of cases, despite what recent press reports to the contrary would lead you to believe.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 7:06 PM | Comments (0)
category: Software Patents

January 19, 2009

Simulator Predicts Evolution

Rockefeller University biophysicists Eric D. Siggia and Paul Francois have developed a simulator which can model evolutionary steps to build an adaptive biochemical network. In test runs, Siggia and Francois found that the same series of specific mutations were repeated each time the simulation was restarted. Evolution's next best move was predictable at each step. This simulator takes Darwin's theories to a new level, allowing scientists to study each step in the natural selection process as it occurs.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 6:55 PM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

January 17, 2009

The Computer as Collaborator

Ken Birman, a computer science professor at Cornell University, claims that the computer has gone from being a tool which serves science to becoming a framework for all other sciences. Another Cornell professor, Jon Kleinberg, thinks that computer algorithms will be to science in the 21st century what mathematics was in the 20th. Read their comments and some examples of new uses of computers in the sciences in Computerworld.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 6:39 PM | Comments (0)
category: Philosophy of Computing

January 15, 2009

European Patent Office and Software Patents

The European Patent Office (EPO) has referred the issue of the patentability of software to its Enlarged Board of Appeal. The EPO is looking for guidance on uniform application of the European Patent Convention (EPC), a multilateral treaty which provides an autonomous legal system to govern the granting of European patents. According to EPO President Alison Brimelow, there is currently confusion about the patentability of software and inconsistencies in how EPC guidelines are interpreted in different countries.

Efforts to produce uniformity are to be applauded.  Just as important, however, is that the resulting uniform rules are the correct rules.  Such a result will not be achieved until the law comes to grips with the genie nature of computers.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 6:30 PM | Comments (0)
category: Software Patents

My Presentation Today at the MIT Technology and Culture Forum

I gave a talk today at the MIT Technology and Culture Forum on "The Future of Inventing: Automated, Collaborative, and Distributed Inventing." The talk was attended by a nice cross-section of the MIT community and engendered good discussion about the changing nature of invention.

You can download the slides for the presentation here. You will get the most of the slides if you view them in slideshow mode, since some of the slides contain animations which will not appear correctly otherwise.

I hope to post video clips from the talk soon.

Posted by Robert at 5:02 PM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention | Genie in the Machine

January 13, 2009

Molecular RNA Computers

Two scientists at California Institute of Technology have developed molecular computers which self-assemble from RNA within living cells. The RNA computers currently perform low-level logic operations, but may someday be programmable and able to react to specific conditions within a cell. Christine Smolke, who carried out the research with Maung Nyan Win, suggests that smart drug delivery systems could be designed which would target cancer cells. The full results of the research were published in Science.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 6:20 PM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering

January 12, 2009

Welcome to Catie Watson

Welcome to Catie Watson, who will be helping me to research and write blog postings. Catie is a software engineer with 20 years experience in the CAD software industry. Earlier in her career, she worked at the EPCOT Center as a real-time programmer for Walt Disney Theme Parks. She is a part-time freelance writer and is published online at Associated Content. Catie is listed for freelance writing work with Elance.com and Guru.com.

Posted by Robert at 5:20 PM | Comments (0)
category: Blogging

January 11, 2009

New Self-Training Program Predicts Fungi Genes

Science Daily reports that scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a self-training software program that will predict genes in the DNA sequences of fungi. Gene prediction for fungal genomes can help in the development and production of important pharmaceuticals and can also aid in the eradication of pathogenic fungi.

According to Mark Borodovsky, director of Georgia Tech's Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics, hundreds of fungal genome sequencing projects currently underway will benefit from the new program.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 6:13 PM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

January 9, 2009

Upcoming Talk on Automated, Collaborative, and Distributed Inventing

I will be giving a talk at MIT next Thursday, January 15 from 1-3pm in Room 4-153 on "The Future of Inventing: Automated, Collaborative, and Distributed Inventing."

We usually think of an "inventor" as someone who sits alone in a workshop, sketching designs and hammering out prototypes.  In the future, individual inventorship will increasingly be overtaken by various forms of "collaborative inventing" as inventors leverage computer technology as an inventive tool. The talk will provide real-world examples of the phenomena that are changing the face of inventing.

Posted by Robert at 6:09 PM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering | Human Creativity | Work

Putting Quantum Devices to the Test

A team of researchers at the University of Calgary has developed a new methodology for testing quantum devices. Their breakthrough is described in the journal Science and its online publication Science Express. Quantum computers, considered to be the next step in the evolution of computer technology, have been stalled in part by the lack of test processes for components in a quantum system. The new test methodology, which uses standard laser and lens techniques, will allow the behavior of optical quantum processes to be quantified. Supercomputers and communication networks based on quantum physics are now one step closer.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 4:03 PM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering