Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Crowdsourced Seizure Prediction

Epilepsy, which is often compared to an electrical storm in the brain, affects nearly one percent of people worldwide. The most common treatment is medication, which can leave people feeling tired or dizzy. Other options include surgery and a new type of implanted device that uses electrical pulses to prevent seizures. A better prediction algorithm has the potential to make implanted devices more effective. Ideally, the devices would work a bit like a heart defibrillator — only delivering electrical current when it's needed. However, to date  prediction algorithms have been little better than random chance. That is until the result of a competition, announced at the American Epilepsy Society's annual meeting in Seattle, showed the value of sharing a complex problem in neuroscience with experts from unrelated fields. The winning team included a mathematician and an engineer, but no doctor. The contest, with a first prize of $15,000, was sponsored by NINDS, the American Epilepsy Society and the Epilepsy Foundation. Over 500 teams entered via, a website that allows researchers and companies to post data in the cloud for competitors to analyze, an approach known as crowdsourcing.
Thanks to my colleague, Mark Wilson, for finding this story in

Friday, February 5, 2016

Donald Murray - Data Communications Pioneer

Donald Murray
We are always pleased when our graduates have very successful careers, particularly when they found, or rise-to-the-top of, international businesses. For the University of Auckland, we can claim that our first graduate with a distinguished international career in Information Technology far predates the founding of our Computer Science department in 1980.
Donald Murray, MA, MIEE, completed a B.A. in Science at Auckland University College in 1890! He had an interesting and varied career, being initially a trainee farmer, then newspaper reporter - first with the New Zealand Herald, then with the Sydney Morning Herald.  Seeing the widespread use of telegraphy by newspapers, he became interested in extending telegraphy to use standard typewriter keyboards. Moving to London, he worked on solving this problem, founding his own company to manufacture and sell his systems. Retiring to Monte Carlo in 1925, he passed his remaining years writing on Philosophy, work not completed by the time of his death in Switzerland in 1945.
A summary of Donald Murray’s career is now on our department’s computer history pages. And there is a lot more detail about Murray and his family for those who are interested.
[This post was written by Bob Doran]

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Internet of Things security is so bad, there’s a search engine for sleeping kids

I've made a couple of posts about home automation and the growing Internet of Things (IoT); automating my house is a sort of hobby. As the uptake grows users (and manufacturers) need to take security much more seriously, since it's possible for an insecure device to compromise an entire home network. For example, a popular first IoT device for new parents is a WiFi and cloud-connected baby monitor with webcam. Parents understandably love the idea of being able to check up on their baby (and the baby sitter) using their smartphone from anywhere. However, many of these webcams are insecure and there is now a search engine for the Internet of Things (IoT), called Shodan,  that lets users easily browse vulnerable webcams. This is disturbing, creepy and potentially dangerous. Arstechnica recently published a piece that makes a good argument that users need to take more responsibility, but that manufacturers must also play their part by designing security into IoT devices. If necessary, governments may have to legislate.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Marvin Minsky - a founding father of AI dies

Marvin Minsky, one of the founding fathers of AI has died, aged 88. As a graduate AI student his book The Society of Mind was very influential on my understanding and approach to AI (I still have my copy on my office bookshelf). An article by MIT's Technology Review does a good job of outlining his contributions, in AI and beyond, and "What Marvin Minsky Still Means for AI".

Monday, January 25, 2016

What's eating Silicon Valley

Everyone wants to work for Google, Facebook, Apple or preferably the next big tech company (well at least lots of our students do). Silicon Valley is booming like never before and San Francisco has become a dormitory town with real estate prices going through the roof and locals being priced out of traditional neighbourhoods. Understandably this is causing some resentment against the tech company employees. However, it's not just the obvious people who are starting to question if the Silicon Vally boom is healthy. This piece, by Andrew Yang, called What's eating Silicon Valley asks some very interesting questions about how sustainable this all is. Thanks to my colleague, Mark Wilson, for noticing this.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates

"A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates" is an unlikely title for a best seller but this book has been in print since 1955. If you're a mathematician you'll know that it's actually very hard to generate truly random numbers and since random numbers are widely used by statisticians, physicists, poll takers, market analysts, lottery administrators, and others this publication was designed to solve that problem. So, if you are in the need of a series of random numbers this book is for you.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2015 : The Year Wearables Became More Than a Bad Word

Happy New Year. This blog is back from its annual holiday. Some of you will probably have received a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit, for a Xmas present. So-called "wearables" had a very good year in 2015 and 2016 look to be even better. This article in Wired explores the trends and suggests that wearables are soon to become even more wearable.