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
- Amazon.com Sells Out of Genie in the Machine Before Release Date
- The In Crowd
- Opportunistic Software Development
- Patent System at a Crossroad
- Genetic Programming and Medical Applications
- 21st Century Skills for New Careers
- Self-assembling Robots
- Richard Feynman and Simulated Evolution
- Evoletronica: Survival of the Funkiest
- "Not Your Grandmother's Genetic Algorithm"
- Hands-on Education
- Frequently-Asked Questions About The Genie in the Machine
April 30, 2009
Amazon.com Sells Out of Genie in the Machine Before Release Date
Amazon.com has sold out of its initial stock of The Genie in the Machine in advance of the official release date of May 1 due to overwhelming demand. The book has been ranked #1 in the category of Science and Technology Law books for the last week.
I will be working directly with the publisher, Stanford University Press, to get more copies to Amazon.com throughout the day. Thanks for your support. I will post another blog entry as soon as I have an update.
April 29, 2009
The In Crowd
In an article in the March 2009 issue of the Communications of the ACM titled "Crowd Control," Leah Hoffman looks at the growing popularity of computer crowdsourcing applications. Crowdsourcing leverages the abilities of the human mind which aren't easily replicated by computers, including visual cognition and language processing. Crowdsourcing applications distribute tasks related to these abilities, attracting workers by using online games or by paying a small fee for completion of a task.
Crowdsourcing first received widespread recognition with the publication in 2004 of James Surowiecki's best-selling book The Wisdom of Crowds. The oldest and most well-known crowdsourcing application is Amazon's Mechanical Turk, which is a web-based platform which allows 'workers' to complete micro-tasks and receive payment (which is usually also 'micro').
Consulting companies are now available to help businesses and individuals interface with Mechanical Turk. Dolores Labs, based in San Francisco, sets up Mechanical Turk tasks for clients, then validates the results for quality and meaning. For more details on how crowdsourcing works, see the ACM article.
Read an earlier post about crowdsourcing here.
April 27, 2009
Opportunistic Software Development
A new concept in software systems development called "Opportunistic Software Systems Development (OSSD)" was introduced in a research paper co-authored by Dr Cornelius Ncube from Bournemouth University's Software Systems Research Centre and Patricia Oberndorf of the Software Engineering Institute. The paper describes the concept of OSSD as "...akin to recent television shows in the UK (Scrapheap Challenge) and the US (Junkyard Wars), where competing teams are given a capability they must implement using only what's available at a junkyard or scrap heap, a set of appropriate tools for integrating the pieces, and their own wits and innovation."
Dr. Ncube describes this approach to software development -- "It proposes a radical approach to software systems development in which the major emphasis is on smart engineering, creativity, innovation, and the most imaginative ways of gluing together seemingly unrelated software pieces to provide interoperable and maintainable systems that meet users' needs."
April 25, 2009
Patent System at a Crossroad
At the 11th annual Sughrue Symposium on Intellectual Property Law and Policy, Judge Michel called for net improvement to the patent system. In his keynote address, Judge Michel describes the current situation as unstable and at a crossroad. Citing problems with the Intellectual Property Act of 2009 and problems at the Patent and Trademark Office, Judge Michel asked Symposium participants to get involved in the effort to improve the situation. Read more about the Intellectual Property Act on the Promote the Progress website.
For my own thoughts on how to improve the patent system, see The Genie in the Machine when it is published in a few days. . .
April 23, 2009
Genetic Programming and Medical Applications
The blog for the Journal of Genetic Programming and Evolvable Machines (GPEMjournal) reports on the growing use of genetic and evolutionary programming in the area of medical applications. Since publishing a special GPEMjournal, "Medical Applications of Genetic and Evolutionary Computation" in December of 2007, the journal has continued to published related work. Some of the medical applications reported on include using genetic programming to aid in medical diagnoses. The journal encourages researchers to contact them with more information about similar applications.
April 21, 2009
21st Century Skills for New Careers
NetworkWorld reports on a survey of 1600 college students who are pursuing various careers. The poll asked the students which skills they expect to use most in the workforce. Eighty percent of those polled expect to have to master new technology as they move into the workforce. Students believe that a wide variety of jobs will require technical skills. In addition to skills related to technology, the students also expect to need enhanced writing and marketing skills.
"The survey results show that students understand they need the ability to leverage technology for their employers across many careers," says Mark Hanny, vice president of IBM's Academic Initiative. Hanny describes the "T-shaped employees" who are sought by many employers. Such employees have a broad knowledge base about business in addition to deep knowledge about their particular field.
April 19, 2009
NewScientist reports on video modular robots which "reassemble when kicked apart." The technology is actually called self-configurable robotics, and it's been enabled recently by advances in robot hardware, communications, and control algorithms. A year ago, a team of U.S. researchers from several universities created a blueprint for cell-like robotic modules that can rearrange themselves to create different shapes. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) then set aside $4 million for studies to see if these modules can be mass produced for demonstrations. See the fascinating video and read more about self-reconfigurable robots here.
April 17, 2009
Richard Feynman and Simulated Evolution
The Genetic Argonaut blog describes how author Daniel Hill spent some time with Richard Feynman working on a program which simulated evolution. Hill was later dismayed to discover that their findings had already been published by Motoo Kimura. Feynman on the other hand was elated by the realization that their "amateur" discoveries had been verified. Read more about it here.
April 15, 2009
Evoletronica: Survival of the Funkiest
The blog for the Journal of Genetic Programming and Evolvable Machines (GPEMjournal) reports on a new website which uses genetic programming and human fitness assessment to 'breed electronic music.' The Evolectronica website streams loops of audio which are voted on by site visitors. Loops which receive the most votes 'reproduce' and 'baby loops' are created. The website is also something of a social community, with members posting their comments and competing for the Hall of Fame. It takes a little work to get set up to listen to audio, but once you do you will be fascinated by the evolving sounds.
April 13, 2009
"Not Your Grandmother's Genetic Algorithm"
On the website for the Illinois Genetic Algorithms Laboratory (IlliGAL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor David Goldberg has posted Not Your Grandmother's Genetic Algorithm, the slideshow he presented at HollandFest 09. Goldberg is director of the IlliGAL and a leader in the GA field. The slideshow follows the journey from simple GAs to the design of competent GAs which break the billion-variable optimization barrier.
April 11, 2009
In his Curious Cat blog, John Hunter discusses how new educational programs are providing students with hands-on experience in science and technology. Programs such as First, Project Lead the Way, and the Infinity Project involve young people in the learning process and promote 21st century workplace skills like creative thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. These programs help students see the possibility of making a difference in the world through a career in science, engineering, or technology.
April 9, 2009
Frequently-Asked Questions About The Genie in the Machine
I've posted a set of frequently-asked questions about my upcoming book, The Genie in the Machine.
The Power of the Simple Genetic Algorithm
In his Genetic Argonaut blog, Marcelo de Brito found himself asking the following question after examining a book on evolutionary computation: why, despite advances in evolutionary-based algorithms, is the most used algorithm the original Simple Genetic Algorithm (SGA) from the 1970s? De Brito attributes the success of the SGA to the heuristic knowledge its users have since embedded in it. Read a related post here.
April 8, 2009
In re Bilski
Last fall, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in Bilski that the "machine-or-transformation test" is the only test to be used in determining whether a process is eligible for patenting. This means that the process must either (1) be tied to a particular machine or apparatus or (2) transform a particular article into a different state or thing.
The process in question was Bilski's method of hedging the risk of bad weather through commodities trading, which had previously been rejected by the USPTO as lacking patentable subject matter. The Federal Circuit affirmed this finding on appeal, based on failure to pass the machine-or-transformation test.
Bilski has now petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari -- asking the high court to determine whether the new test of patentable subject matter is the correct test. Read more about the case here.
April 7, 2009
Honoring a Genetic Algorithm Pioneer
The Genetic Argonaut blog describes a three-day event called HollandFest 09 which was held this February in Singapore to commemorate the contributions of Professor John Holland to the fields of evolutionary computation and genetic algorithms. Holland, a renowned professor in Psychology and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the University of Michigan, is the originator of Genetic Algorithms and one of the seminal architects of what is now known as Complexity Theory. This year marks both Holland's 80th birthday and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.
April 4, 2009
Duke University's K* Program and the War on Germs
A team of computer scientists and biochemists at Duke University have developed a computer program that will help researchers discover how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Results of the program, a set of computer rules known as the K* ("K Star") algorithm, have been verified in laboratory experiments. The techniques used by the K* program could lead to more automated redesign of drugs to battle drug resistance in germs. The K* software is open source code and available to other researchers to evaluate, use and possibly extend.
April 2, 2009
Are Quality Software Patents the Answer?
The subject of software patents is polarizing, with businesses making use of them at the same time that many software developers oppose them. Part of the solution may lie in a way to ensure fewer but better-quality software patents. Writing in the U.K. edition of ZDNet, intellectual property consultant Jeremy Phillips looks into the possibility of ensuring more quality patents through heightened patent application examination.
April 1, 2009
Patent Granted on Software for Writing Software Patents
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted a patent on the process of writing software patents, entitled, "Method and System for Generating Functional Description of Patentable Subject Matter on a Computer-Readable Medium." The basic technique covered by the patent involves:
- applying natural-language processing to a database of existing software patents (what patent lawyers call "prior art") to create a database of features of existing software;
- receiving a description of a deficiency in existing software;
- using a genetic algorithm to "evolve" a new combination of software features which lack the described deficiency; and
- automatically creating a description of the resulting software, suitable for use in a patent application.
One example provided in the patent is that players of online massively multiplayer games enjoy sending text messages to each other while they are playing, but lack the time to compose their messages carefully, leading to potentially embarrassing gaffes (such as mistyping "brb" ("be right back") as the meaningless "brub"). This problem can be solved by combining the existing spell-checking feature from a word processor with the existing instant-messaging feature of a game, and additionally modifying the spell-checker's dictionary to understand "text speak" abbreviations.
The patent's owner and sole inventor, Patrick Entwhistle Trohl, Jr., said in a press release that he plans to file thousands of additional patent applications in the coming years, all of which will be written by his patented patent-writing software. As of the writing of this blog entry, he had not responded to the question whether he was concerned that his existing patent could be used as prior art against his subsequent patent applications, thereby rendering all of them unpatentable.