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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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August 29, 2009

The Blue Brain Project and Creation of an Artificial Brain

Henry Markram, a professor at Switzerland's Eucole Polytechnique Federale de Luasanne and director of the Blue Brain Project, recently stated that scientists are within 10 years of creating a fully-functioning artificial brain. Speaking at the TED Global Conference in Oxford, Dr. Markram said the Blue Brain Project has already simulated elements of a rat brain. Why is the team attempting to create an artificial brain? Dr. Markram pointed out the value of the research for treating mental illness and other types of brain impairment. The Blue Brain Project team was formed in 2005 with the aim of reverse engineering the mammalian brain from lab data.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 1:34 AM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention

August 27, 2009

Power was the Focus at the Design Automation Conference

At the 46th Design Automation Conference, which was held the final weekend in July in San Francisco, low-power design was one of the central themes of workshops, tutorials, presentations, meetings, and technical tracks. Power is currently one of the biggest challenges for designers, especially when balanced against the demand for more power in portable devices. The need for design techniques that lower static and provide dynamic power consumption continues to be one of the most popular topics at DAC. Attendees voted for "Power Scavenging: Waste Not, Want Not" as their favorite topic of the conference.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 1:27 AM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering

August 25, 2009

Debating the Dangers of Intelligent Machines

An article in the New York Times reports on a group of research scientists who recently met at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Monterey Bay, California, to debate advances in artificial intelligence. Some of these advances seem threatening, such as a robot that can seek out a power source and recharge itself or computer viruses that are impossible to eradicate. Part of the researchers' concern is related to the social disruptions that further AI advances could bring. The misuse of AI technology by criminals was another topic of concern.

The researchers who met are leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and robotics experts. The Conference was organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, which will be issuing a report later this year. The meeting could prove to be pivotal to the field of AI.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)
category: Philosophy of Computing

August 23, 2009

Extending Moore's Law

According to the theory of Moore's Law, the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. The theory, named for Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, is believed by many to be reaching its limit. Now a Rice University laboratory is manipulating molecules in such a way as to extend the theory for a few more years. A research team led by Rice University professor James Tour has published a paper which outlines a way for chip designers and manufacturers to continue to miniaturize transistors, circuits, and microprocessors.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering

August 21, 2009

What Engineers Don't Learn in School

Speaking at the National University of Singapore, David Goldberg explored the topic of "The Missing Basics: What Engineers Don't Learn and Why They Don't Learn It." He listed 7 missing basics that graduating engineering students leave school without having learned, including how to ask the right questions, how to use language to describe concepts, and how to decompose large problems into smaller ones. See the slides from Dr. Goldberg's speech for the complete list and for the series of solutions he proposes.

Dr. Goldberg is a professor of Entrepreneurial Engineering and Director of the Genetic Algorithms Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 12:06 AM | Comments (0)
category: Education

August 20, 2009

A Shift in Microsoft's Focus

In an Infoworld article, Microsoft chief officer for strategy and research Craig Mundie predicts that computers of the future will be programmed to serve people automatically, rather than reacting to human instructions. "I've lately taken to talking about computing more as going from a world where today they work at our command to where they work on our behalf," Mundie is quoted as saying. This focus indicates a shift in Microsoft's strategy towards user interfaces for computers (including gesture, voice and touch interaction).

At Microsoft's annual Field Summit in Spokane, Washington, Mundie showed a video of a prototype digital personal assistant. The image of a person on a computer screen was used to gather information and perform tasks. Mundie also presented a video on the digital office of the future, where files, a whiteboard, and presentation area are all represented by 3D projections. Interaction would take place through touch and gesture interaction. Mundie called these demos "half smoke and mirrors and part real," but stated that they are possible with current technology.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering | Human Creativity

August 18, 2009

The End of the Peer-to-Patent Program

In June, the U.S. Patent Office shut down its Peer-to-Patent program after a test run which lasted for two years. The purpose the program was to obtain peer reviews early in the patent approval process. While the program was in effect, patent applicants could indicate their agreement to receive early peer reviews from volunteers. The program was processed through New York Law School's Center for Patent Innovation.

Critics of the program faulted the program for providing little incentive for participation. Ironically, the program was cancelled shortly after receiving recognition from White House Open Government Initiative.

Although I never made use of the program with any of my clients, the general concept of drawing on expertise from outside the Patent Office for uncovering relevant prior art seemed like a good idea to me.  I hope that whatever flaws may have existed in the Peer to Patent program do not discourage future efforts directed at drawing on such expertise to improve the quality and efficiency of patent examination.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)
category: Intellectual Property Law

August 16, 2009

Blurring the Line Between Hardware and Software

Writing on the Foresight Institute website, J. Storrs Hall discusses how the boundary between hardware and software is becoming "fuzzier" as systems become more complex and nanotechnology becomes more important. With future use of nanocontrollers, the complexity of mechanical systems will accelerate to the point that "matter compilers" will be required for the design. This means that the nanotechnology designer will be using the same processes to design nanotechnology that today's software developers use to design and implement software. Dr. Hall predicts that the ability to write reliable software will become more and more important in the coming world of nanotechnology.  If he is right, this is further evidence that the problems that software has caused for patent law will begin to creep into the application of patent law to nanotechnology for the same reasons.

Dr. Hall is a leader in the field of molecular nanotechnology and president of the Foresight Institute. He is also known for coining the term Utility Fog, which is a hypothetical collection of nano-robots that unite to form a solid mass in the shape of any desired object.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering | Miscellaneous | Philosophy of Computing

August 14, 2009

The Ludicrous Designs of Steven M. Johnson

Writing in the New York Times, Allison Arieff investigates the work of Steven M. Johnson, who she describes as an "inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner ... a sort of R. Crumb meets R. Buckminster Fuller."

Johnson, a former urban planner, creates designs for inventions that are sometimes whimsical, sometimes visionary. He calls them "sneakily outrageous." Examples include an office desk that transforms into an enclosed bed for late nights and afternoon naps at the office. On the more practical side, Johnson envisions a city where gasoline and diesel powered vehicles are barred and only electrical cars and bicycles are allowed. These are only the tip of the iceberg of Johnson's ideas, which are illustrated by cartoon panels. Johnson describes his design process as lateral, letting loose the imagination and ignoring the worrying part of the mind. See Johnson's work on his PantentDepending website.

Posted by BlogAuthor1 at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)
category: Human Creativity

August 10, 2009

Turing Tarpits and Nonobviousness

Alan Perlis coined the term "Turing tarpit" in a 1982 article entitled, "Epigrams on Programming," in an epigram which stated, "Beware of the Turing tar-pit in which everything is possible but nothing of interest is easy."

Turing tarpits tell us something about nonobviousness in patent law which may seem trivial, but which is often missed in debates about software patents: the mere fact that computers make the creation of a particular piece of software possible does not render that software obvious. Computers may facilitate the creation of software, and thereby raise the bar of nonobviousness for software, but they don't raise the bar infinitely. Yet it continues to be common to hear the argument that computers render all software trivial to create, and therefore obvious and unpatentable.

I presume that the "Turing tarpit" idea was inspired both by Turing's conception of the computer as a universal machine, capable of mimicking any other computing machine, and also by Turing's response to "Lady Lovelace's Objection" in his paper, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence." Mere possibility does not imply predictability and therefore should not be treated within patent law as sufficient proof of obviousness.

Posted by Robert at 6:16 PM | Comments (0)
category: Philosophy of Computing | Software Patents