Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Robots get the best restaurant tables

Thanks to Mark Wilson for bringing this quirky story to my attention. The BBC reports that in Silicon Valley an online war has broken out between bots snapping up restaurant reservations. "The use of bots has made it almost impossible to get good tables at some of the most popular Valley eateries." And I thought that getting a good table meant knowing the maitre d' well.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Shchukarev's forgotten logical thinking machine

I'd never heard of Professor Shchukarev and his "logical thinking machine," a device able to mechanically make simple logical conclusions based on input assumptions, until I was asked to advice The Moscow Polytechnic Museum on its new computing exhibition. The logical thinking machine was an improvement on the "logic piano" devised by the English logician William Stanley Jevons. On Saturday, April 19 1912, in the big auditorium of the Polytechnical Museum, Professor Shchukarev gave a public lecture on the topic of “Cognition and thinking.” The lecture included the demonstration of his logical thinking machine, "a device that can reproduce mechanically the human thought process, i.e. to deduce conclusions based on given assumptions. The machine was first built by the mathematician Jevons and improved by the author of the lecture. The machine shows its results in plain word form." The machine was lost during the chaos of World War One and the Russian Revolution. You can find a full history of this remarkable machine here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Game Development Boot Camp - Auckland

If you're a student in Auckland with an interest in game programming, you might want to attend the free Microsoft Game Development Boot Camp that is being held this weekend at The University of Auckland. There are prizes to be won! Full details of when and where can be found on the Bootcamp's website.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quantum computing explained

You've probably heard of quantum computing, but like most of us you probably don't have the slightest idea what it is. The famous physicist Niels Bohr once said, "If anybody says he can think about quantum physics without getting giddy, that only shows he has not understood the first thing about them." Radio New Zealand interviewed science writer John Gribbin who did an excellent job explaining what quantum computing is and how it may change computation for ever. Gribbin's new book Computing with Quantum Cats: From Colossus to Qubits looks like a great read.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Computer Chess at the International Film Festival

The International Film Festival, now running in Auckland, prides itself in having a movie to suit every taste. There's even one for the geeks amongst us Computer Chess described as a "stubbornly, gloriously retro saga set at an early-1980s computer-chess tournament (with a few ventures into the freaky couples-therapy seminar being held at the same hotel). The technology is dated, both on and off-screen, as hulking machines with names like ‘Tsar 3.0’ and ‘Logic Fortress’ battle for nerdly supremacy as a cameraman, wielding the vintage cameras that were actually used to film the feature, observes. Tiny dramas highlighting the deeply human elements lurking amid all that computer code emerge along the way. Though the Poindexters (and the grainy cinematography) are authentically old-school, the humor is wry and awkwardly dry – very 21st century."
    The movie is showing today (Monday) and tomorrow - check the festival's website for times and tickets.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Alan #Turing to be given posthumous pardon

!!!!! Great news !!!!! It's not a done deal yet, but The Guardian reports that the UK Government indicates its support for a backbench bill to pardon the mathematician and father of computer science who took his own life after his prosecution for gross indecency. Congratulations to everyone who signed the ePetition, those who lobbied their MP's, and principally Lord Sharkey who brought the private members bill - Sharkey said: "As I think everybody knows, he was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration. He committed suicide two years later. The government know that Turing was a hero and a very great man. They acknowledge that he was cruelly treated. They must have seen the esteem in which he is held here and around the world."
   Oscar Wilde next.
Get Adobe Flash player

Friday, July 19, 2013

IP - "Intellectual" or "Internet" Property

The New Zealand Herald has reported an interesting story that sheds light on the ongoing modern struggle that established copyright and intellectual property laws have with the Internet and the digital distribution of content that may affect you. Do you use the wonderful free media player VLC? I certainly do - it's installed on all four of the computers I regularly use and it is (IMHO) the best video player available. If VLC can't play that file, nothing will. But US media giant HBO has  sent a takedown notice to Google, listing VLC amongst other infringing content they want the search giant to remove from its search results.
   This seems bizarre, VLC isn't infringing anyone's copyright or intellectual property, moreover as open source software nobody could be profiting even if it were. It's as if some lawyer wanted to confiscate your spectacles or contact lens to stop you watching a pirated movie. Has HBO gone mad? Apparently not, it appears that VLC is guilty by association since it often turns up mentioned online around pirated content. HBO's robo-lawyers automatically issue take-down notices and Google is supposed to automatically respond. Fortunately in this case Google has ignored HBO's request. VLC has been tainted by the company it keeps; pirates use VLC therefore VLC must be stopped. VLC runs on computers, perhaps that should be their next target!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Five-Year-Olds to Learn Programming and Algorithms

Many thanks to my colleague Clark Thomborson for bringing this article to my attention. V3.co.uk reports that five-year-olds are to learn programming and algorithms in a major computing curriculum shake-up. "The United Kingdom's Department for Education (DfE) recently overhauled the country's computing curriculum, removing the teaching of software basics such as Microsoft Word and adding programming and algorithm teaching for children as young as five years old. The new curriculum will be mandatory starting in September 2014, and spans the breadth of all four key stages, beginning when a child first enters school at age five through age 16. Students will be taught to understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions. "We are introducing a tougher, more rigorous national curriculum," says Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove. "For the first time children will be learning to program computers. It will raise standards across the board--and allow our children to compete in the global race." The British Computer Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering wrote the original draft of the new curriculum and DfE revised it. Students will be expected to create and debug simple programs by the end of key stage one, and they will be taught how to understand computer networks by key stage two."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Imagine yourself a winner

The New Zealand Herald has featured a story on one of our computer science students, Jacky Zhen (centre left), who has has developed the software for a smartphone application designed to prevent sunburn for Microsoft's Imagine Cup. Jacky is currently studying for an MSc in Game AI using neuroevolution for micromanagement in the real-time strategy game Starcraft: Brood War.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Alan Turing: His Work and Impact

Nature has published  an amusing short pre-review of the book "Alan Turing: His Work and Impact", edited by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leeuwen it reads as follows:

The new testament of computer science has come, 101 years after the birth of founding prophet Alan Turing. It took 70 renowned evangelists from all walks of science and philosophy to put the polymath's words in context and dissect his living impact on pure maths, physics, biology, engineering, banking, metaphysics and beyond. How big is the incomputable universe? Can digital machines think? Do daisies emerge from pure chemistry? If your soul craves answers to such questions, this is your new bible.

The 944 page book presents Turing’s most significant original works along with commentaries from scholarly leaders in the field. Written for a larger audience, it provides a unique insight into the text, context and significance of Turing's impact on mathematics, computing, morphogenesis, philosophy, and to the wider scientific world. The book includes two commentaries co-authored by members of our department. A commentary by C. S. Calude (UoA), L. Staiger (Halle U.) and M. Stay (UoA and Google) presents a complexity-theoretic analysis of non-ending computations that are responsible for Turing arguably most important theorem: no algorithm can distinguish in finite time between halting and non-halting computations. Another commentary by A. A. Abbott (UoA),  C. S. Calude (UoA), K. Svozil (TU Vienna) discusses the controversial issue of oracle-based hypercomputation, i.e. a Turing computation accessing a finite, but unbounded, part of an incomputable set. A Turing computation powered with a quantum random oracle is theoretically capable of breaking the Turing barrier, but is this capability practical?
   Even if this book didn't contain two commentaries by colleagues from my department and wasn't edited by a fellow member of the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee i'd still highly recommend it - I can't wait to read it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Douglas C. Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse, dies

The New York Times has reported that a true pioneer of computing has died, Doug Englebart, who is credited with inventing the computer mouse and the graphical user interface that we still all use to this day has died aged 88. In the 1960s he had a vision of computers that could be networked together and used intuitively by pointing and clicking at icons on a screen. On December 9 1968, Doug Engelbart and his group of 17 researchers from the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, presented a 90-minute live public demonstration of the online system, NLS, they had been working on since 1962. The presentation has become a legend and is now called "The Mother of All Demos" - the public presentation was a session in the of the Fall Joint Computer Conference held at the Convention Center in San Francisco, and it was attended by about 1,000 computer professionals. This was the public debut of the computer mouse. But the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface. These breakthrough ideas were subsequently taken up by Xerox at their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and then commercialised by Apple with the Mac.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How algorithms rule the world

The Guardian newspaper today is leading with a story called "How algorithms rule the world," partially motivated by the ongoing NSA security leaks, it shows how it's not just the security services who trawl through vast amounts of our data to find interesting patterns.  From dating websites and financial trading floors, through to online retailing and internet searches, healthcare planning and even music production - algorithms are becoming a vital part of our daily lives. It's an interesting article - recommended.