Wednesday, February 27, 2008


In another (yes, another) sensationalist attempt to attract readers and sell ads, we find an AFP article entitled Automated killer robots 'threat to humanity': expert.

Just some more fear-mongering from our wonderful media if you ask me.

So we can add psycho killer robots to the list of things to be worried about in this troublesome modern age. But I thought Hollywood already taught us that? In fact, the article even refers to The Terminator.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

As mentioned earlier, my department recently held a very successful Computer Science Research Day. The keynote speaker was Dr. Guru Parulkar, Stanford researcher (and UD alum) working on a project called the "Clean Slate Design for the Internet." The goal of this work is to re-design the Internet with 'modern' features that will improve security and quality of service, as well as provide new classes of services.

I viewed his entire presentation as a direct attack against Network Neutrality. The basic premise was that the Internet is broken, it's getting worse, and it needs to be fixed. How do we fix it? Increased 'control & management' by ISPs and government. A central theme seemed to be finding new ways for ISPs to monetize traffic and develop 'value-added services.' In other words, getting me to pay for things I can get for free elsewhere. This will be accomplished by denying or degrading access to competitors in the name of 'security,' 'reliability,' and 'return on investment.'

My question to the speaker was, "Many people would argue that the freedom and success of the Internet is a result of what you refer to as the 'dumb' infrastructure. If we were to implement the changes you propose, how would Network Neutrality survive?" [paraphrase]

Dr. Parulkar's response was based on the claim that it wasn't 'fair' that Google made billions while Comcast's market capitalization remained stagnant. The last time I checked, these companies were in entirely different businesses, although Dr. Parulkar conveniently lumps them together as "service providers." Why in the world would I ever want to pay Comcast (or Verizon, or Time Warner, etc.) additional fees for poorly designed implementations of services I can get for free elsewhere? I pay my ISP for access to the Internet, and Google et al. pay ISPs for their net access, so why do the ISPs believe they are entitled to any additional remuneration for this connection?

The phrase "Network Neutrality" was not mentioned until I brought it up in my question. I believe the subject was intentionally avoided.

ISPs are a utility, just like the electric company. I just want to pay a competitive market price for unfettered Internet access with no strings attached. Is that really an unreasonable expectation? Unfortunately, many ISPs don't understand the business they are in, and apparently, neither do many researchers.

It's ironic that Stanford, original home to Google who has thrived due in large part to Network Neutrality, is leading the charge against it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who takes issue with the underlying purposes of this project.

Finding Myself

So I was Googling myself recently (which isn't as creepy as it sounds) and discovered that I was acknowledged in a paper written by a former instructor. The paper discusses a capstone project in my senior software engineering class (CS 482) at Iona College. My group built an online course evaluation system, similar to the bubble-sheets used by many students at the end of each semester.

I suppose it's nice to be acknowledged, but being listed as a co-author would have been even better... especially when I was applying to grad school!

For those with journal access, the paper can be found on
A software development project: a student-written assessment system.

Friday, February 22, 2008

CS Research Day 2008

So, I have to say that (despite the weather) the first annual Computer Science Research Day at UD was a success. The keynote speaker from Stanford provoked quite a reaction, at least from me (more on that soon). During the panel discussion on Privacy & Security regarding digitizing medical records, Emily made a good point by suggesting that the controversy could be avoided by giving individuals the ability to choose exactly what data would be made available.

I presented a poster about ICICLE (my first as a grad student), and ran some demos afterwards to anybody who was interested. In addition to ICICLE, I also demonstrated my Answer Machine and summary program. I'm hoping to have a CGI version of the summarizer online soon for anyone to try out.

By the way, I'm thinking of calling it 'gist,' which could stand for either "Greenbacker's Instant Summary Tool" or "gist Is a Summary Tool," depending on how narcissistic I'm feeling at the moment...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What I cannot create, I do not understand

This excellent blog post draws parallels between Feynman's observations regarding the Challenger disaster and current trends in Software Engineering. Makes for a rather interesting read and is worth checking out. In particular, I appreciated the bit about unit testing and 'step by step' increases -- things I believe good programmers should constantly strive for in single-author programs... but which may become increasingly difficult/expensive in larger endeavors.

(via Slashdot)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Implications of a Closed Universe

Does infinity actually exist, as something more than just a concept? If the universe is a closed, finite system (which is currently unknown) then it cannot. I believe mathematical concepts are not real and valid unless they can be expressed in a physical system. So, if we cannot have an infinite number of any 'thing,' then infinity is an invalid concept. There are no 'Platonic ideal forms.' Just because we can imagine something does not grant existence to that thing. I can imagine lots of things, like unicorns and flying pigs, but they aren't real.

So, if it turns out that we live in a finite universe, and infinity doesn't exist, then time is finite too. Time will eventually end and existence will cease, in a 'Big Crunch' or similar event. Would this provide a solution to the Halting Problem then? If there is an end of time, then no program or algorithm will run forever, so for all X, HALT(X, X) = TRUE.

I should probably file this under Ramblings...

Monday, February 18, 2008

21 Years From Now

Ray Kurzweil recently said,
We will have both the hardware and the software to achieve human level artificial intelligence [...] by 2029.

Ever the optimist, Kurzweil apparently believes horsepower & libraries are the things holding back AI. I would argue that the tools are relatively inconsequential; ideas and techniques are what matter. The Wright Brothers combined decades-old equipment & materials in a radical new way to build the world's first airplane. My intuition is that the code expressing human-level AI will be elegantly efficient and small enough to run on current systems. Unfortunately, innovation doesn't easily lend itself to predictions and prognosticators.

By the way, 2029 is the year John Connor sent Kyle Reese back in time to stop the Terminator. Coincidence?

(via Slashdot)

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Future of Warfare

Wired recently covered Israel's plans to develop a powerful artificial intelligence to take over military command & control in the event of an emergency, leading to some nervous thoughts about Skynet.

This is where all global human conflict is heading. We've built machines to replace many jobs humans don't want to do. Thinking and fighting are the next logical steps.

Every modern military should be working towards this. Maybe they already are in secret...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Baby Data Mining?

Researchers performing cognitive experiments on toddlers claim that children acquire language through a process similar to data mining. The toddlers were shown a series of object pairs while recordings of two words were played. During each iteration, one of the words corresponded to one of the objects. Over time, the children were able to disambiguate the references and determine which words corresponded to which objects.

While the scientists claim this language learning method to be akin to data mining, to me it seems less like a statistical searching process and more like rule-based pattern recognition and association building.

via Slashdot

Gas-Pumping Robot

First vacuuming the rug, then moving the lawn, now robots can pump your gas for you. If this operates as well as advertised, the designers must have overcome several significant vision and pattern recognition challenges to make it work.

I wonder if they'll allow these in New Jersey?

And when will it be upgraded to wash your windows and check your oil?

via Slashdot