Patent stupidity

This patent made me wonder what kind of people is running the US Patent Office. This one dispelled all my doubts.

Update: See also Patent Absurdity for a 30 min video where Eben Moglen, Karen Sandler and others talk about the history and present of software patents.


QuackleCheckers and chess are no longer the only games where computer programs are able to beat human world champions. Last November, Quackle, a crossword game artificial intelligence and analysis tool, beat a former Scrabble world champion 3 games to 2, as related in this newspaper article. The exciting thing about Quackle, from my point of view, is that it is released under the GPL, meaning that you have access to the source code. An excellent opportunity to learn a thing or two about AI programming for real.

I find mildly amusing how reports and comments on feats like this one are centered around the computer and the computer program. My impression is that frequently an important point is missed, namely, that these programs are actually a homage to the human brain, more concretely, to the very human brains of their creators. I’ve always wished to learn more about the details of how programs like DeepBlue are implemented. For checkers, i had the amusing Blondie24: Playing at the Edge of AI, where David B. Fogel explains how he created a top notch checkers player. Now, with Quackle, i can finally go to the core. Nice.

All about Alan Turing

A minsky machine to play with

Over at Good Math, Bad Math (a wonderful blog i wholeheartedly recommend), Mark Chu-Carroll has published a minsky machine to play with, implemented in Scheme. In case you’re wondering, Mark also explains what a minski machine is (and why they’re equivalent to Turing machines). Minski machines are sometimes called register machines: a bit more on them here and here.

For additional fun (if you feel like philosophizing a bit) see also this other kind of Minski machine.

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Recursion, logic and co.

It just occurred to me that hibernation doesn’t preclude my pointing you to some interesting articles, even if i have not explored them in full. So, in a rush:

  • Julian Noble’s small collection of articles includes a nice and colorful introduction to recursion (with examples in C and Forth) and a very interesting discussion of complex numbers and their implementation.
  • Those of you with a soft spot for maths and computer-generated images will have a great time with the recovered Mathematical Imagery website, by the AMS.
  • Via this post on LtU, a very nice article by Philip Wadler exploring logic and logic programming.
  • Could a machine think? is a very fun article revisiting the well known Chinese Room argument against hard AI.


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AI turns fifty

In 1956, a summer school took place at Darmouth College, organised by John McCarthy, the father of Lisp, Marvin Minski, and Claude Shannon, among others. It was called The Darmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intellingence. Nowadays that may seem as rather run of the mill, but back then was the first appearance in print of the term AI, coined by McCarthy. The school’s announcement starts with a paragraph tinted of the characteristic optimism of hard AI proponents of the time:

We propose that a 2 month, 10 man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves. We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer.

To celebrate AI’s forthcoming 50th aniversary, Jocelyn Paine has collected a superb Who’s Who in AI, with links to online references all over the Web, featuring 89 people, 3 programs and a computer. Also of note is Jocelyn rant in the preamble about the lack of free availability of several seminal papers on the subject. Food for thought.

The article is this month’s issue of Dr. Dobb’s AI Newsletter: if you liked it, chances are you’ll find many of the previous issues interesting too.

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