Monday, June 30, 2014

Going iPad-only: How to do it with the right apps and accessories

We all like to travel light, well I know I do. I never check luggage and recently spent a whole month in Europe with less than 7 kgs of luggage. The iPad is quite a powerful computer with a reasonable sized screen so it's not unreasonable to consider using one as your main computer particularly if you're travelling. You're going to need a bluetooth keyboard and carefully choose which productivity apps you'll need. A recent article in Asian Efficiency gives some sensible advice on the options available to you. If you have been thinking about of going iPad-only or making your iPad your main computer you should read this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Meet Hopscotch, the iOS app teaching kids how to program

I've blogged before about the growing movement to teach young children how to program. Hopscotch is a new iPad app that lets kids drag and drop blocks of code to create their own programs. Kids can make games, stories, animations, interactive art, apps...if they can imagine it, they can build it with Hopscotch. But the important thing about teaching kids to code is not just that they'll have fun but they'll learn problem solving, critical thinking, and the fundamentals of computer programming. Check Hopscotch out it's free and you don't have to be a kid to use it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why We Need to Tame Our Algorithms Like Dogs

Algorithms control our daily lives, wether we're aware of it or not. Algorithms run riot in financial markes; they predict the weather and electricity demand; they price insurance and decide how many doctors to schedule to the emergency room on any given night. They even decide what groceries to stock in your local supermarket. Given algorithms' (hidden) importance it therefore makes sense that they work for  us. An interesting article in Wired makes the point that our algorithms need to evolve alongside us, much as dogs have, to become useful servants.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Watson in your pocket

No relation to me -  IBM's Watson, the cognitive computer that can be an expert in any subject, is moving to the cloud, and will soon be accessible via smartphone app An article in the New Scientist says that Watson is moving into the cloud and will soon be accessible via smartphone. If you could quiz Watson, IBM's all-knowing supercomputer, from an app on your phone, what would you ask it? In February this year IBM invited potential app developers to pitch them their ideas. IBM whittled 100s of ideas down to 3 Grand Finalists. You can get more information on them here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

#Turing Test hasn't been passed

Sorry to confuse you, since my previous blog post claimed the Turing Test had been passed. On closer inspection scientists are now not so sure that the chat bot "Eugene Goostman", a computer programme developed to simulate a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, actually passed Turing's Imitation Game. Let's look at the evidence. First, Eugene only managed to convince 33% of the judges that it was human, therefore the majority of thought it wasn't human. Second, Eugene's developers are clearly gaming the game; by creating a persona who is a child and speaks English as a second language they're lowering the judges' expectations as to its ability to understand questions and give sensible answers. Transcripts of the conversations from the latest Royal Society test are not yet available but here's and excerpt from a transcript from a previous event at Bletchley Park on 23 June 2012, with the same program.
[15:02:56] Judge: I come from Manchester. Did you see the jubilee?
[15:03:02] Eugene: Could you invite me to Manchester? I would be so grateful. 
[15:03:17] Judge: Did you see the jubliee?
[15:03:27] Eugene: Try to guess! Actually, I don't understand why you are interested. I know you are supposed to trick me.
[15:03:35] Judge: Not really
[15:03:40] Eugene: Not really? Why? What are any interesting site-seeings in Manchester?
[15:03:59] Judge: Lots of nice things. Do you like football?
[15:04:04] Eugene: Does anyone hate it? Some another topic?
[15:04:18] Judge: Will you be watching the football on Sunday?

[15:04:23] Eugene: I play sports sometimes. On computer. But I prefer racing.

Let's analyse it. First, Eugene doesn't know what the Jubilee was - perhaps it didn't make the news in Ukraine, that's understandable. But then something odd happens; Manchester and football are mentioned and Eugene tries to change the topic. I'm sorry but there isn't a 13 year old boy on the planet who wouldn't then have mention Manchester United! FAIL. You can make up your own mind by talking with Eugene here (hint: try the Manchester and football trick, Eugene falls for it every time, and yes football is a big sport in Ukraine).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Computer fools scientists, passes intelligence test

A computer program, called Eugene Goostman, that simulates a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, has passed the Turing test at an event organised by the University of Reading. The test investigates whether people can discriminate between a computer or a human in a conversation. The experiment is based on Alan Turing's test for machine intelligence, called the Turing Test, which he called The Imitation Game. This story has been very widely reported in the media by, for example The BBC and even The New Zealand Herald. Thanks to my colleague Mark Wilson, and others, for bringing this story to my attention.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Free eMagazines from Auckland City Library

Auckland City Library has just announced that it is making hundreds of magazines available to members for free as eMagazines that you can read on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Joining the library is free and so there has never been a better reason for getting a library card. Click here for information on had to access the magazines.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A ballet about automata - Coppélia

At the weekend I went to see The Royal New Zealand Ballet perform Coppélia. What can that possibly have to do with a blog about computing? Well, the story of Coppélia involves a love-struck young couple who find themselves in the house of a Dr. Coppélius, who makes automata. The young couple fool him into believing that his greatest creation, a beautiful female automata called Coppélia, has come to life. So this is a ballet from 1870 about an AI. The music was lovely, the sets beautiful and the dancing amazing. Highly recommended. You can read reviews of the show here.