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
- Videos of Talk on Invention Automation Available
- Twitter on the Brain
- The Pursuit of Thinking Machines
- Easing the Patent Processing Bottleneck
- Automating the Work of Scientists
- Simulating Auto Assembly
- Robert Plotkin Interview in MIT Technology Review
- Nerd Culture Lives On
- Web Cubed: Everything will be Connected
- Combating Common Diseases with Large-Scale Sequencing Technology
- Leaders of the Digital Revolution Discuss the Future of Technology
- Meet Adam, the Robotic Junior Lab Assistant
May 28, 2009
Videos of Talk on Invention Automation Available
Some clips from a talk I gave at the MIT Technology and Culture Forum in January are now available for viewing online. Each clip stands on its own, but watching them all together will give you a better sense of the scope of the whole talk, and of the variety of topics covered in The Genie in the Machine.
May 25, 2009
Twitter on the Brain
Twitter has become habit-forming for many people, but only Adam Wilson can claim to have posted on Twitter using his brain waves. His message, "using EEG to send tweet," was actually a demonstration of brain-computer interface technology. Wilson, a University of Wisconsin biomedical engineering doctoral student, is interested in providing communication interfaces for people with "locked-in syndrome," meaning their brains are functional but communication is hampered by injury or a medical condition.
Wilson used an electrode-studded cap wired to a computer to send electrical signals from his brain to an on-screen keyboard. Focussing on a letter caused it to be 'typed' on the keyboard. The Twitter experiment was one of the first to tie a brain-computer interface to Internet technology. Justin Williams, a UW professor and Wilson's advisor, hopes that this demonstration will inspire other researchers to focus on inventions that will help the daily life of people with neurological deficits.
May 23, 2009
The Pursuit of Thinking Machines
In March of 2009, the Second Conference on Artificial General Intelligence, AGI-09, was held in Arlington, Virginia. The conference's main topic is the Holy Grail of the AI field -- the creation of thinking machines with human-level (or higher) intelligence. The 100 attendees included independent researchers, members of academia as well as representatives from major tech companies like Google, GE, AT&T, and Autodesk.
Conference Chair Ben Goertzel sees most AI research today as having a focus which is too narrow and specialized. The dream on which he says AI was founded, of "software displaying intelligence with the same sort of generality that human intelligence seems to have," is not being addressed by research. The AGI conference is part of concerted effort to form a cohesive community ready to focus on radical innovation and an acceptance of diverse approaches.
May 21, 2009
Easing the Patent Processing Bottleneck
Patents are recognized as a key protection for the intellectual property rights of inventors and innovators. Unfortunately, processing patents has become increasingly time-consuming and complex. In most nations, the patent process requires an inventor or innovator to submit a patent application which includes a detailed technical specification. The patent office then puts the patent into a 'pending' state while it investigates whether the invention is worthy of a patent.
Due to the growth in patent applications around the world, most patent offices are suffering under the strain of a huge backlog of applications to be processed. In 2005, the Japanese office had a backlog of 750,000 applications, the U.S. had 600,000, and European Patent Office (EPO) had 285,000.
EPO's president, Alison Brimelow, has been quoted as saying: "Huge backlogs change the nature of the patenting system and create ambiguities which can be exploited in ways unforeseen by those who established the patent system."
In response, the European Union has funded a project called PATExpert which uses semantic web technology. PATExpert is a multimedia content representation system for the retrieval, classification and generation of concise parent information. The system supports multiple languages and provides tools to assess patent material. The system has been demonstrated and the probable next step is commercialization for general use.
May 19, 2009
Automating the Work of Scientists
We wrote here in an earlier post about a robot in the U.K. that can perform laboratory experiments independently ("Meet Adam, the Robotic Junior Lab Assistant"). Now the journal Science reports that two Cornell scientists have developed a computer program that sifts raw data to uncover fundamental laws of nature.
The program, developed by professor Hod Lipson and graduate student Michael Schmidt, uses genetic programming techniques by starting with random guesses at a solution and then using an evolutionary algorithm to mutate equations until it finds a solution that works. The research worked on data to find invariant equations. Such equations often point to fundamental natural laws.
"It's a nice piece of work," said John R. Koza, a computer scientist at Stanford who pioneered genetic programming. "It's another good example of how genetic programming can do things that are comparable to what human scientists can do."
See video of Hod Lipson and his self-replicating robots on TED.com.
May 17, 2009
Simulating Auto Assembly
Problems related to robotic car assembly include determining if new components will fit into the car assembly and then finding the most efficient way for the robot to install the component. New CAD software designed by European scientists performs virtual installation of car components, detecting when problems will occur and offering advice on how the component should be redesigned. The software is also capable of simulating flexibility in components, factoring the amount of bend in the component into assembly planning. The interactive program allows changes to components to be applied and previewed in a matter of seconds.
The software was developed and refined at the Fraunhofer-Chalmers Research Centre for Industrial Mathematics FCC in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern, Germany. There is a plan to make this software commercially available before the end of the year.
May 15, 2009
Robert Plotkin Interview in MIT Technology Review
An interview with me appears in an article written by Lissa Harris in the May/June article of the MIT Technology Review. The article discusses my recent book, The Genie in the Machine, and describes problems introduced into the U.S. Patent System in the 1990s by improper quality controls on the patent examination process. As the article points out, I recommend ways in The Genie in the Machine to improve patent examination to avoid a repeat of these problems as the patent system attempts to deal with the next wave of computer-automated inventing.
May 13, 2009
Nerd Culture Lives On
As computers and technology became more prevalent in everyday life, one would think that the stereotype of the computer nerd would have faded away. This has not been the case, according to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Lori Kendall. The negative stereotype of the nerd as a white male with glasses, poor social skills and a command of obscure knowledge remains stronger than ever in popular culture. Kendall's analysis has found that the nerd continues to be a common stock character in movies, TV shows, and advertisements. This stereotype may actually be driving women and minorities away from careers in information technology. Kendall believes the stereotype is rooted in a deep-seated uneasiness with computer technology and its influence on our lives.
May 11, 2009
Web Cubed: Everything will be Connected
According to futurists, the next generation Internet will be built on networks linking not only computers and telecommunications devices, but many other products including clothing, cars, and all types of personal electronic devices. A new paradigm to support what is known as "cubed networking" will be needed to move beyond Web 2.0, as well as new technology to support users by dynamically adapting to each user's environment.
New technology always requires new standards, and there are currently no standards bodies addressing networks with the potential to support billions of dynamic heterogeneous devices. As a start, several European companies have embarked on a collaborative effort called BIONETS (BIOlogically inspired NETwork and Services). The goal of the BIONETS project is to lay down the foundation for the design of the complex large scale networks which will be required by the Internet of the future.
According the BIONETS project coordinator Daniele Miorandi, "The first problem is scale. A network capable of linking everything together will be huge, and it will take some serious engineering to create a framework and platform capable of attaining this sort of scope." The philosophy behind BIONETS is to use models of complex hetergeneous systems found in nature as a source of inspiration.
May 9, 2009
Combating Common Diseases with Large-Scale Sequencing Technology
Uppsala University in Sweden, home to the UPPMAX Center for Advanced Computational Science, is expanding operations to provide biomedical researchers with large-scale sequencing technology. This technology can be used for studies on the impact of the genome on common disease. For example, the DNA modifications in a cancer cell can be catalogued by the new technology and used to help identify which gene mutations increase the risk of common diseases including cancer, diabetes, obesity and autoimmune-related diseases. UPPMAX has received funding to obtain three of the new technology sequencing machines.
May 7, 2009
Leaders of the Digital Revolution Discuss the Future of Technology
At a symposium sponsored by the American Academy for Arts and Sciences, discussions on the past, present and future of digital technologies took place between Microsoft technical fellow Butler Lampson, Google chief Internet evangelist Vinton Cerf, and Qualcomm chairman Irwin Jacobs. The discussions were chaired by Stanford President John Hennessy, another key player in the digital technology revolution.
In terms of the past, there was agreement that general acceptance of the Internet came as a surprise. In the present, privacy was cited as one of the main concerns of the current digital age. In terms of the future, ideas such as cameras capable of face recognition and automated cars were discussed. Most revolutionary of all, Vinton Cerf has hopes for the development of a direct brain-Internet connection.
The American Academy of Art and Sciences is an independent policy research center and international society. The American Academy was founded by John Adams during the Revolutionary War. Since then a total of 11,000 members have been inducted, including 243 current Stanford scholars. Read more about the American Academy of Art and Sciences on their website.
May 5, 2009
Meet Adam, the Robotic Junior Lab Assistant
The BBC News reports that scientists in the U.K. have created a robot that can perform experiments on its own. The robot is named Adam and is described as the first automated machine to have independently "discovered new scientific knowledge." This was accomplished when Adam identified the role of several genes in yeast cells and then planned future experiments to test the hypotheses. The team of computer scientists at Aberystwyth University who developed the robot say it's a prototype for machines that could be commonly used in labs to complete mundane experiments, freeing up scientists to carry out more advanced work.
May 3, 2009
Genetic Alogrithms on a Cellphone
Christian Perone has recorded a video of a genetic algorithm running on a cellphone. The algorithm solves the Traveling Salesman problem. His blog tracks his work in writing a complete genetic algorithm framework using Python. Perone promises to post the source code soon.
May 1, 2009
GECCO-2009 Car Racing Competition
The second contest of the GECCO-2009 Car Racing competition officially started on March 25. The competition is a software-simulated race between virtual cars. The second contest is designed to simulate the time before a race when mechanics and drivers optimize the car for performance. The goal of the contest is to build an evolutionary algorithm that can replace the team of humans and find the best car setup (e.g., gear ratio, wing area and angle, spring setup) on a given track.
The submission deadline for the contest is July 1, 2009. Results of the contest will be announced at the Genetic and Engineering Computation Conference (GECCO-2009) held July 8-12 in Montreal, Canada. This is the largest conference in the field of genetic and evolutionary computation.
Read an ealier post about last year's competition here.
Update on Availability of Genie in the Machine
Amazon.com is in the process of restocking The Genie in the Machine, after the initial stock quickly ran out. Expect it to be available for shipping again very soon. Orders are shipped on a first-come first-served basis, so if you order a copy now you will receive it as quickly as possible. Please ignore the message "Ships in 1 to 2 months" if you see it -- this is simply Amazon's way of saying that the book is temporarily out of stock.
If you can't wait for your copy, some other merchants have the book available for shipping immediately through the main Amazon page for the book, but at higher prices than Amazon itself.