About This Blog
Automating Invention is Robert Plotkin's blog on the impact of computer-automated inventing on the future of invention and patent law.
- Artificial Invention
- Design & Engineering
- Evolutionary Computation
- Genie in the Machine
- History of Computing
- Human Creativity
- Intellectual Property Law
- Philosophy of Computing
- Software Patents
- Technology Industry
- Microsoft Leads the Field in Corporate Patents
- The Software Patent Cultural Gulf
- Garage Genome Hackers
- New Solar Energy Material Captures the Rainbow
- CIG 2008 Car Racing Competition
- The RoboTuna Project
- Advance Praise for The Genie in the Machine
- The Petabyte Age
- Evolutionary Electronics
- Teaching for the New Millennium
- Open Innovation and the Raymond Conference
- Billion-Point Computing
February 27, 2009
Microsoft Leads the Field in Corporate Patents
According to a survey done by IEEE Spectrum magazine, Microsoft is the current leader in corporate patent portfolios among U.S. technology companies. Intel came in second on the patent scorecard, with IBM third. Patents are seen as an important measure of a company's ability to create and develop new technologies. Companies can also use their patent portfolios as leverage by requiring competitors to pay for the rights to use patented technologies.
IEEE Spectrum magazine is the journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technology trade organization. See full results of the patent survey here.
February 25, 2009
The Software Patent Cultural Gulf
At a recent Brookings Institute conference entitled, "The Limits of Abstract Patents in an Intangible Economy," lawyers and technologists met to discuss issues related to patents in the software industry. According to an article on techdirt.com, there was a 'cultural gulf' between the participants, with patent attorneys and law professors supporting the system of patents on software, and techies speaking out against it. For some hypotheses about why this gulf exists, see the article. For my own views on the topic, just wait a while longer until The Genie in the Machine is published.
February 23, 2009
Garage Genome Hackers
NewScientist describes a do-it-yourself movement in biotechnology, specifically in the area of synthetic biology, which uses genes and cells as the building blocks for the creation of new organisms. The movement includes a diverse mix of people who enjoy tinkering with DNA in their spare time.
The science fiction website io9.com recently sponsored a Mad Scientist contest aimed at "mad scientists with homebrew closet labs, grassroots geneticists, and garage genome hackers." Contestants were asked to build a real life form using MIT's registry of standard biological parts known as "biobricks," or by using other scientifically plausible materials. The idea behind encouragement of this grass-roots movement is to bring a wider group of people into the field of discovery, similar to what happened when tinkerers like the Homebrew Computer Club of the 1970s spawned the first personal computers.
February 21, 2009
New Solar Energy Material Captures the Rainbow
Researchers at Ohio State University have developed a new solar cell material that can absorb all of the energy contained in sunlight. Current solar cell materials capture only a small range of frequencies of light, meaning they capture only part of the energy contained in sunlight. Since the new material is able to absorb all of the light frequencies from sunlight at once, it can be said to capture all of the colors of the rainbow.
Computer-aided molecular design was used to explore different molecular configurations. According to Malcolm Chisholm, Chair of the Department of Chemistry at Ohio State, a commercial version of the new material is several years away. However, the research that has been completed is proof of concept that the new material is viable.
February 19, 2009
CIG 2008 Car Racing Competition
The CIG 2008 Car Racing competition was a software-simulated race between virtual cars, organized by Swiss researcher Julian Togelius, and Daniele Loiacono and Pier Luca Lanzi of the Politecnico di Milano. Details of the race were presented at the IEEE Symposium on Computational Intelligence and Games held in December 2008 in Perth, Australia. The cars were powered by controllers based on a variety of architectures, including neural nets, genetic algorithms and evolution strategies.
The car race was enabled by TORCS, an open source race car simulator written in C++. TORCS provides multiple versions of cars, tracks, and controllers, and the ability to develop custom controllers. TORCS is supported by an active community of users and developers. The competition patch for TORCS was written by Daniele Loiacono.
February 17, 2009
The RoboTuna Project
MIT's RoboTuna is an engineering project which models the swimming dynamics of a bluefin tuna. Designing RoboTuna has been challenging due to the difficulty of analyzing and then emulating the complex movement of the fish at it swims through its liquid environment. A genetic algorithm is one of the tools used to search through data and determine optimal parameters to control movement of the robot.
RoboTuna is a long term project, originated in 1993 as a doctoral thesis. The overall goal of the project is to use a biological model to develop advanced propulsion systems for underwater vehicles. For more information on RoboTuna, including pictures and videos, see the MIT RoboTuna website.
February 16, 2009
Advance Praise for The Genie in the Machine
Advance praise for my upcoming book on computer-automated inventing, The Genie in the Machine, is starting to roll in. So far the book has received positive reviews from genetic programming pioneer John Koza, New York Times-bestselling author Dan Pink, and MIT Computer Science Professor Hal Abelson. Read what they have to say about the book here.
February 15, 2009
The Petabyte Age
According to an article in Wired magazine, the explosion of statistical information brought on by the use of computers calls for an entirely different model for analysis. We are now in the Petabyte Age. A petabyte is a unit of computer storage equal to one quadrillion bytes.
Google is discussed as an example of how data can be analyzed without regard for context. The Google advertising philosophy led to the automatic placement of ads on web pages based on a purely mathematical analysis of content. Peter Norvig, Google's research director, posits that the measurements of large amounts of data will someday replace all known models.
The implications reach far beyond the world of advertising and touch on all areas of science. The scientific method itself, which consists of hypothesis, model, and test, may now face a serious competitor.
February 13, 2009
Adrian Thompson is a scientist on the faculty at the University of Sussex who specializes in "Evolutionary Electronics", which is the use of genetic algorithms in the design of electronic system. Thompson calls this type design of evolutionary because it resembles natural selection, with "selection acting repeatedly upon heritable variation." He has researched the idea of self-designing circuits which could be used to build neural network chips.
February 11, 2009
Teaching for the New Millennium
Educational experts are talking about the importance of "21st-Century Skills" for today's students. In addition to reading, writing and math, public education needs to prepare students to apply what they've learned in real-world scenarios. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "the ability to articulate and solve problems, to generate original ideas, and to work collaboratively across cultural boundaries is growing exponentially in importance."
The key to teaching these 21st-Century Skills seems to be integrating them into core subject teaching. The emphasis needs to go beyond preparing young people for the world of academia, and focus more on preparing them for the real world. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a national advocacy group which is working with states to initiate changes in teacher training, school curricula and testing.
February 9, 2009
Open Innovation and the Raymond Conference
An article in BusinessWeek describes how the concept of open innovation in business was put into practice at the fifth annual Raymond Conference in Rotterdam, held in February 2008. The conference was attended by 17 design managers from companies such as Heineken, Lego, Airbus, and Hewlett-Packard. Conference attendees were asked to collaborate as if they were all part of a single global design company. Their mission was to deliver the best, fastest and most inexpensive design solutions for a broad range of businesses. Designers experienced the chance to look at their businesses from another industry's perspective and learned new ways to share knowledge among designers.
February 7, 2009
Scientists from the University of California at Davis and Lawrence Livermore Labs have developed a computer algorithm that allows features and patterns to be extracted from extremely large and complex sets of raw data. The algorithm is optimized to run on computers with as little as two gigabytes of memory. It addresses problems with analyzing increasingly large data sets which result from simulations of real-world phenomena and from physical experiments and observations.
According to Attila Gyulassy, who led the five-year team effort, "What we've developed is a workable system of handling any data in any dimension. We expect this algorithm will become an integral part of a scientist's toolbox to answer questions about data." The algorithm works by dividing data sets into parcels of cells which are analyzed and merged. This process is repeated, with data which is no longer needed discarded at each merge step. The result is a drastic reduction in the amount of memory needed to store the results of the calculations.
February 5, 2009
"Survival of the Fittest" Marketing
A software program which uses a genetic algorithm to develop consumer product marketing? That's the concept behind IDDEA (Interactive Discovery and Design by Evolutionary Algorithm), an innovative system owned by a Massachusetts-based company called Affinnova. Developed in the 1990s by two M.I.T. engineers, the software has been used to help dozens of companies create marketing strategies, including Proctor & Gamble, Wal-Mart and Capital One.
Businessweek.com describes how Affinnova worked with office supply superstore Staples to create a paper product marketing strategy.
February 3, 2009
Simulating the Evolution of Photosynthesis
A study published in the journal Plant Physiology describes how a team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have used a supercomputer to design a photosynthetic pathway which is 76 percent more efficient than natural pathways. Photosynthesis is a critical biological process in plants which uses sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy stored as carbohydrates. Attempts to improve crop yields without increasing the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers have led to an interest in improving the energy-amassing processes of photosynthesis.
Stephen Long, professor of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois and a member of the research team, is optimistic about using findings from the simulation to support evolution of more powerful pathways in living plants.
February 2, 2009
Students Use Genetic Algorithms for Airplane Engine Design
A team of high school students in Burlington, Vermont is experimenting with genetic algorithms to help create a fuel-efficient design for a two-engine jet airplane. The design is part of the Real World Design Challenge, which allows high school students to work on real-world engineering projects in a team environment.
The genetic algorithms are part of a sophisticated software package which was donated to the team. Genetic algorithms use test iterations to evolve a design to its optimal state. "We're going to experiment", says Mike Gaffney, a 17-year old member of the team. "If we get lucky, it works."
February 1, 2009
Building Computers from Molecules
A team of European researchers is doing groundbreaking work on developing molecular replacements for computer transistors. Led by Christian Joachim of the French National Scientific Research Centre's (CNRS) Centre for Material Elaboration & Structural Studies (CEMES), the Pico-Inside project is addressing atomic-scale computing by attempting to build computer components from individual molecules, with the ultimate goal of hosting a logic gate on a single molecule.
Over the last 60 years, the trend in computer miniaturization has enabled exponential growth in computer power. The development of atomic-scale computers holds vast promise for the microelectronics industry. "Atomic-scale computing researchers today are in much the same position as transistor inventors were before 1947", says Joachim. "No one knows where this will lead."