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
- Bio-Computing Focus at 2009 Supercomputing Conference
- Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli Discusses Future Isssues in EDA
- The Competitive Edge in Simulation Technology
- Nerd Culture Lives On
- Leaders of the Digital Revolution Discuss the Future of Technology
- Opportunistic Software Development
- Building Computers from Molecules
- The Search for Code-Free App Builders
- Print Your Own Products
- Patents vs. Prizes
- Your Genome for $399
- Outsourcing Manufacturing Isn't Just for Large Companies Anymore
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
- December 2008
- November 2008
- October 2008
- September 2008
- August 2008
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- February 2008
- June 2006
- May 2006
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- December 2005
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- June 2005
November 14, 2009
Bio-Computing Focus at 2009 Supercomputing Conference
In November, the 22nd annual supercomputing conference will be held in Portland Oregon. This year, SC09 will feature a Bio-Computing Thrust Area that will focus on new developments in bio-centric computing, storage, and networking. Events scheduled for this portion of SC09 will touch on cloud computing, storage of vast amounts of biological data, DNA sequencing technology, and integration of national biomedical information. For more information, see this press release on Business Wire.
November 8, 2009
Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli Discusses Future Isssues in EDA
In a recent interview with EDN at this year's Design Automation Conference (DAC), Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli discussed some of the most important issues facing electronic design automation (EDA) today. According to Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, professor at UC Berkeley and chief technology advisor for Cadence, electronic systems composed of nanostructures is an area that is just beginning to receive attention. New methods, architectures and tools will be needed to deal with the uncertainties inherent in small devices. He also discussed his theory about the need for developing a new formalism that he calls metamodeling. Read the complete interview on the EDN website.
June 19, 2009
The Competitive Edge in Simulation Technology
According to a report from the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC), today's supercomputers have enabled increasingly powerful simulations, producing rapid advances in science and engineering. This has led to an increased demand for programmers who can work with the multiprocessor architecture of supercomputers, and the U.S. has too few skilled programmers to meet the demand. As more programmers and national programs become available abroad, the competitive position of the U.S. in simulation-driven fields is being eroded. More details on the report are available on the National Science Foundation website.
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 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.
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."
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."
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.
December 25, 2008
Print Your Own Products
Professor Thomas A. Easton writes in the latest issue of The Futurist about how improvements in three-dimensional printing technology and new business models (such as that of Ponoko, previously reported on here) are enabling products to be manufactured on-demand from digital design files. He imagines a not-too-distant future in which consumers will have 3D printers, or "fabbers," right on their home desktops, ready to manufacture products purchased online in an instant.
For more on this and other related topics, check out Prof. Easton's blog, Technoprobing.
November 30, 2008
Patents vs. Prizes
The patent system, when it works properly, can provide incentives to inventors to create new inventions and make them available to the public. Patents, however, are not the only tool we have for encouraging innovation. Prizes, as Anya Kamenetz reports in Fast Company, are another such tool. Innovation prizes "gave the world guns and butter--specifically, the AK-47 and margarine. They sent Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris and Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne almost 70 miles above the earth--twice."
As the article rightly points out, prizes can be a great way to spur innovations in certain circumstances, such as when the the prize-granter can clearly define the problem to be solved and the criteria that a winning solution must meet. Patents, and markets in general, tend to do a better job at spurring innovation when the problem to be solved, or the kind of invention that will solve it, are not yet known.
November 21, 2008
Your Genome for $399
Not quite your entire genome, but for $399 the startup company 23andMe will analyze your genome and provide you with personal information including predictions of your risk of developing certain diseases. All they need in addition to your $399 is a sample of your saliva, reports Technology Review.
November 19, 2008
Outsourcing Manufacturing Isn't Just for Large Companies Anymore
Are you an individual designer or inventor who wants to earn a living from selling your products but who doesn't have the time, inclination, or money to sell your products yourself, and who wants to be your own boss? No worries. Wired magazine reports that a company named Ponoko will let you upload your designs to them in digital form. They will then market your products for you. When a customer purchases your latest chair, Ponoko will use its laser cutters to cut your chair from a block of wood and/or plastic, based on your digital design, and then ship the resulting product to the customer's door. Ponoko sends you a cut of the sale price. The result is that you can focus on being creative and leave the messy details of marketing, manufacturing, and distribution to someone else. Ponoko is just one example the article provides of companies that are spurring the "rise of the instapreneur."
October 7, 2008
Breaking the Software Development Speed Limit with Agile Programming
Science Daily reports that so-called "agile software development" can be used to slash software development time, based on the results of 68 pilot case studies of the approach. A key feature of agile programming is the rapid development and testing of prototypes, in contrast to the traditional "waterfall model" in which the entire program is developed and implemented before being tested.
September 8, 2008
Arnold Brown mentions a relatively new business process emerging in China called "localized modularization" in his article, "The New Biology Paradigm" (The Futurist, September-October 2008). According to Brown, manufacturers who use localized modularization do not dictate to their suppliers every detail of the parts they want manufactured. Instead, the manufacturer "specifies only key features, such as size and weight, letting the supplier's designers figure out the rest, thus enabling quicker changes and adaptation." He notes that Longxin and Zongshen now use localized modularization to make half of the world's motorcycles.
Modularization facilitates de-coupling of functional modules. Once that de-coupling is achieved, the modules on either side of the equation can be automated without affecting the other. Therefore, localized modularization looks like it is poised to facilitate automation of the modules that are localized.
August 21, 2008
Open Source Isn't Only for Software
"Open source" isn't necessarily followed by "software" anymore. Now there's open source hardware, which usually refers to "the release of schematics, design, sizes and other information about the hardware." The philosophy of open source has already been applied to designs for hardware including CPUs, graphics cards, MP3 players, and even entire computers.
August 18, 2008
Does "Openness" Lead to More Innovation?
Kevin Boudreau has written an interesting paper on the question of whether making a platform "open" leads to more innovation than leaving it closed. His nuanced conclusions are worthy of attention in light of more frequent claims that purely open or closed models are the best way to promote innovation.
February 3, 2006
The Spark of Co-Creation
In his new book Spark, John Winsor and 16 others discuss "co-creation," in which companies work collaboratively with their customers to create and improve their products and services. In other words, it is a collaboratively-written book about collaboration.
I see a parallel here between collaboration of businesses and their customers in "co-creation," and the "collaboration" of software and its users in interactive evolutionary computation.
September 6, 2005
People are still good for something
Although the focus of this blog may appear to be on technology that automates invention, technology is only half the story. People are the other half. It's an obvious point that is often overlooked in our technophilic culture (I say this as someone writing in the U.S.).
For example, if you're fearing that computer automation will soon make humans obsolete, read this article from ADTmag.com, which reports on a study finding that "[t]he best in class software development projects are 3.37 times faster to market and 7.48 times cheaper than the worst." Management and technology approaches, not technology itself, constituted three out of the four factors that contributed to these results.
In other words, the best software development projects run as smoothly--and hence quickly and inexpensively--as they do primarily because of how people manage and execute those projects. Even in a field that has been driven so much by computer automation, there is substantial room for human expertise to make a significant real-world difference.
August 10, 2005
IPcentral ponders the difficult question of who should own the technical know-how that is inside the heads of workers at high-tech companies. The posting was motivated by a recent court ruling that temporarily bars a former Microsoft employee from performing search-related work for his new employer, Google, because doing so would violate his non-compete agreement with Microsoft.
Trade secret law and non-compete agreements have long been used to control the movement of know-how and other information stored in the heads of human scientists, engineers, and programmers. But what happens when we "bottle" such know-how, or its equivalent, in the form of software that can design machines and write software? You might think that a company that develops an improved genetic algorithm that assists it in designing new machines should maintain that algorithm as a closely-guarded trade secret. After all, isn't the algorithm the functional equivalent of an engineer's know-how within the framework of the company's business model?
But I don't think the answer is entirely obvious. Perhaps the company should seek a patent on the algorithm, thereby obtaining a period of time in which it can block competitors from using the same algorithm even if they develop it themselves independently. Or maybe they should use some combination of intellectual property protection and licensing mechanisms to secure the maximum value to the company.
The point is that transferring know-how from a human mind to software raises some tricky legal and business considerations that will need to be addressed as the automation of invention continues.
July 28, 2005
Genetic algorithms optimize complex pipe design
Australian firm Optimatics reports that it has used genetic algorithms to help more than 80 major clients in Australia, the U.S., Canada, and Britain optimize the design of pipes for providing water through cities, towns, and new urban developments. Optimatics claims that its optimization techniques can produce solutions up to 20 percent less expensively than traditional engineering.
Evolutionary computation improves automobile design
NuTech Solutions has issued a press release describing how its ClearVu Engineering technology has been used to solve multidisciplinary optimization problems in car safety applications. Thomas Baeck gave an impressive presentation at GECCO this year describing NuTech's work with a German auto manufacturer to increase the speed and decrease the cost of design without comprising crash safety.
July 18, 2005
Imagination Engines Launches New Web Site
Imagination Engines is a small company working with what many have recognized as potentially the biggest idea in history, a technology that can invent everything else. Accordingly, largely due to issues of credibility, the company's road to success has been rocky. There have been many skeptics and critics, but there have been more believers and supporters. Now the company thrives upon a significant contract stream and tangible products that speak louder for the technology than words possibly could.
I believe I first heard about the company when I read an article (such as this one) describing how the company had used its patented Creativity Machine to invent the Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush. Although genetic algorithms seem to be getting most of the attention these days, Imagination Engines' Creativity Machine relies on neural networks.
July 15, 2005
Does open source development produce innovations?
Anything Under the Sun Made by Man has an interesting posting questioning whether open source software development produces innovations. The author, a patent agent, relates that a software developer client of his "was of the feeling that nothing innovative has come from Open Source Software, nor will it ever. He cited several examples, including Linux, where a viable and useful piece of commercial software had been rewritten by OSS developers and released for free."
It is true that most of the effort in open source development to date has been directed to reproducing the functionality of existing software, such as operating systems, compilers, web servers, and graphical user interfaces. But although such projects may not produce innovations per se, they have other benefits. The original motivation for developing GNU/Linux was not to produce a new operating system, but to produce one that could be used and modified by its users without engaging in copyright infringement. Proponents of open source also claim that open source development produces software with fewer bugs and security holes than software produced using closed development models.
Also worth noting is that most open source projects produce platforms, protocols, and interfaces, rather than applications. These kinds of end products are valuable because they facilitate standardization and the development of specific applications and data formats consistent with the adopted standards. From a commercial perspective, it can be beneficial for such standards to be "open" -- not owned by any private entity -- because they increase the pie for everyone who is in the business of providing products and services consistent with the standards.
There is a connection between all of this and automated inventing. Should John Holland have attempted to patent the basic features of the genetic algorithm? In one sense, genetic algorithms are a platform for inventing and for problem-solving more generally. The arguments above would therefore imply that keeping genetic algorithms generally "open," as Holland did, was the right strategy for maximizing innovation. On the other hand, many patents have issued on specific applications of genetic algorithms. Such applications may have been kept as trade secrets, thereby depriving the public of knowledge about them, if patent protection had not been available.
This is all to say that developing legal rules to encourage optimal innovation is tricky business.