Sunday, 27 November 2011

Our Programme is GREAT! ...but some parts of it are not as good as the others.

Hey fellow ICE students, are you also having issues with housing?
Let's try to get this straightened out before the rest of the 2nd cohort arrives.
Please share your stories and suggestions on how to make 
this part of the ICE experience
 work better for our new colleagues than it did for us!

Cheers! John

Friday, 4 November 2011

Please, tell us all what you think!

This is going to just be a quick piece to try and start a discussion. If you're reading this please take a minute and provide some feedback. Ready? Here we go:

In the last two weeks, two really big things have happened in the realm of research science. Well, okay, that's a ridiculous statement. On any given day, hundreds or thousands of really cool things happen in the realm of research science.

Look, if you think I'm exaggerating, it's because you aren't reading the right journals or magazines or blogs or tweets. But I want to talk, briefly, about two very particular things that might just have a very strong effect on our work.

One of them is really cool.

The other one is horrible.

They can both provide a great learning experience for us all.

A little over a week ago, the entire archive of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society was made freely available to the general public. If you don't know it, the Philosophical Transactions is the original name of what became the Proceedings of the Royal Society, arguably, the first, oldest, and longest running scientific journal.

Wonder why I say "arguably"? Ask a French scientist or, you know, offer me a beer and five minutes of listening.

Anyway, I now have a pdf on my desktop allowing me to read the original "A Letter of Benjamin Franklin, Esq; to Mr. Peter Collinson, F. R. S. concerning an Electrical Kite", from 1751.

Another pdf I had to look for right away is the 1671 article by Sir Isaac Newton "containing his new theory" on the relationship between light and colours.

Cool, eh?

What are you going to look up first?

The other piece of big news that I'd like to propose for discussion is the confession this week of Diederik Stapel, PhD, who admitted that he has been falsifying data for most of his 20 year career as a well-respected social psychologist. He has been heavily published, and has supervised more than a dozen PhDs. Worse than all of that, his work has influenced public, private, academic, corporate and medical opinions and actions... ...and it was all based on falsified data.

To frame a selfish question that we could all be asking right now: In this time of anti-scientific naysaying from high offices, how will Stapel's actions effect our prospects, and how should we respond?

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Song of Technological Progress

There is a chorus singing somewhere just out of sight, and if you listen, you can hear the echo of their voices in every lab and every office in the world.

The melody carries through our portable phones and our cars, and through every modern transaction you conduct. The rhythm is syncopated with the tapping of my keyboard as I type these words, and the backbeat is in time with the microsaccadic movements of your eyes as you try to focus past the glare on your monitor to read them.

This is the Song of Technological Progress, as it is sung in the 21st Century. 

And the words they’re singing? The lyrics of this omnipresent muzak are hardly important so long as everyone keeps humming in time. In fact, it would probably be better for all of us if we were to just mumble smilingly along like a politician singing his national anthem and forget about the meaning… better for us as developers and thinkers and planners and Engineers…

But as humans; as humans it would help us to listen to the words, to try and drag the meaning of them out into our shared understanding.They are familiar words. As programmers and Computer Scientists, as technicians and office workers and especially as Ergonomists, we sing these words all day long. The tune has grown more popular than ever before but the words... what has become of the words?

“Human-centered design” is in there somewhere, as is “intuitive” and “ergonomic”, but just like “trusted” and “proven” and “reliable” and “guarantee”, the words have lost all meaning under the sway of the powerful jingle that has everyone singing and humming and drumming 24 hours a day.

Well, I guess I have to admit that these words haven’t lost all meaning...

Now they all seem to mean: “BUY THIS!”

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The cognitive agent's insomnia

Here you are: you got in the scope of attention of your favorite cognitive environment. And – to make things clear – it is an artificial one. What can you deduce with a certain probability? The interoperability problem that had been limiting proliferation of ubiquitous computing and advent of the Internet of Things has been somehow solved. What a good news! Thanks to that, sensors and actuators started talking together and became more valuable to your living. Here is a key point: some applications enabled by the networked devices got a tremendous impact, since they solved real problems for the people.

That's what knowledge is for, oh yes, for solving problems and... for putting other people in trouble. But this is not the case of your cognitive environment, that – if it claims to be at your service – it really is. Inside of it, there is a model of the user expectations, that it uses to predict your needs before you make them explicit. But you are so unpredictable and no one - especially an engineer - will ever be able to program such a model out of you! Let us suppose that among your qualities you have patience too. The cognitive environment is able to learn from past interactions, especially from those that weren't so successful for both of you. Interestingly, it will also consider the possibility that things went wrong just because you were unlucky. But at some point, it will have enough confidence to formulate a reasonable hypothesis. It will update its model and try to validate the new hypothesis in the next interactions.

The capabilities of a cognitive agent should only be defined by the statistics that it collects, as it has to be more conservative when data is scarce and to go in the details – even those that seemed insignificant at design phase – when urged to do so. It follows that an interactive environment should never be lazy: when there is no one with who to interact, it should reconsider its internal structure, generate new assumptions and test them using simulated inputs and if it goes to sleep, it does that to dream.