Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Brett Victor - Inventing on Principle Video

This is an interesting perspective to present.  It's also a great way to showcase some very inventive concepts.

Much to think about.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Data Visualisation Tools

Yet more GA ideas

Interesting article above.  Stired an idead that has been bubbling around for ages.

The issue I see is that the chromosome of the GA and the fitness function are seperated. The choromosome is mutated, mated and selected, while the fitness function is static.  This treats the "chromosome" simply as "data" while the fitness function, mutation function, mating function and selection function act as immutable "code".

I feel like I have been in this conversation before, but I want some way to load all the functions into the chromosome and allow both the "code" and the "data" to mutate and be mixed up at the same time. 

For this to happen, there has to be a simple generic machine to parse the data in the chromosome and interpret some of it as "payload", some as fitness function, some as mating function, some as selection function and some as mutation function. 

Chances are that this model will cause catastrophic failure in most scenarios... but its a fun idea. 

By allowing all these functions to mutate and become part of the GA, it should make for a more flexible system, that does not encode any of the assumptions of the designers into it.  It should allow the system to evolve without any unknown constraints.

What will this need?

A set of abstract mechanisms to iplement the various functions  (Fitness, mutation, selection, mating) at a population level along with a chromosome of "data". 

The simplest place to start is halfway.... Start with a library of fitness functions and use a simple flag in the data chromosome to pick which one to use on the GA. (Theoretically, this will pick the fitness function which gives the highest "score" for different families of GA's.

Ditto for mutation, selection and mating functions... just sit around and come up with every weird and amusing function possible, then let evoluation selecte the winners.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Beautiful Review of Dishonored

This review is verging on over-literary but manages to avoid being sickening.  Its just a beautifully lyrical celebration of something that the reviewer seems to enjoy deeply.

Very nice writing.

Paper on Legal Rights for Robots


Darling, Kate, Extending Legal Rights to Social Robots (April 23, 2012). We Robot Conference, University of Miami, April 2012. Available at SSRN: or

This is a really interesting paper that explores the rationale and implications of granting rights to social robots.

It opens a whole can of scenarios that legislators will need to wrestle with.  Some of the obvious edge cases that spring to mind are:

* How might these rights apply to the manufacture, repair and disposal of the robots?

- Manufacturer's need to "test" robots, which may involve testing them to destruction, or testing them in non-legal ways to ensure saftey for the user.

- Repair technicians need to disassemble and replace components and may place the robot in a state that is "illegal". They may also return a robot to the owner in a "functional" state but a state of "change" which the owner finds disturbing.

- How do you dispose of a robot if it has rights?  Can you put it out for the trash?  Can you bury it?  How do you dispose of a robot that is damaged or completely non-functional?

* One scenario that was mentioned in the paper as being a potential area for legislation is the domain of sexual behaviour with robots.  In the case where the behaviour crosses the boundaries of currently socially acceptable behaviour, should this also apply to robots?

The complication here is that a robot can be created specicially for the purpose of either the practice or theraputic behaviour modification therapy around these practices.  As the robot becomes a "tool" in this scenario and may be programmed in ways that the practice does not engender "pain" but instead activly "enjoy" the behaviour.  Or engage in a way that theraputically modifies the behaviour in the human participant.

In this kind of scenario, the legal protection of the robot may complicate therapies that are designed to benefit society.

* Scenarios where robots could or are Injured or destroyed through use are complicated.  It's quite reasonable to conceive of robots being inadvertantly injured during "work" such as dropped or broken through rough play.  In these cases, would there be a requirement for "repair" or trauma councelling for the affected humans?

* What about indirect attacks on humans by people attacking their social robots?  Similar to cases of companion animals being attacked by other animals or humans to inflict emotional harm to the owner.

Things to think about. 

The obvious extension of this is about purely software artifacts.  Social Software Agents.  Would they also be granted similar rights?  Especially where they embody some unique content or learning that has gone on to shape their behaviour with that of their human user/owner and have a strong bond.  Do they have some right of protection, existance, power?

The future will be interesting.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I have decided that the thing that will kill the movie industry is simple inertia.  Changing market dynamics, movie pirates, old school business models, more TV channels, too much Internet, gaming etc... all these are just symptoms and distractions.  The root cause is the incredibly slow pace of production.

The "industry" (and remember its a collection of individuals with no common purpose; so herd or rabble may be a better description) generates a finite number of movies per annum.  Of these, only a certain number will be of interest to any particular group of movie viewers.

Viewers come in two groups, the first is "Indiscriminate Viewers" who will watch anything as the opportunity arises.  The second is "discriminating viewers" who are in some fashion selective in their viewing habits.  These are people who will refuse to watch some movies given the opportunity and further will expend effort to seek out movies that satisfy their interest.

Generally, I would suggest that over time an indiscriminate viewer will move toward being a discriminate viewer; simply though the mechanims of experience.  They find what they enjoy and they seek to maximise that.

So, given that the longer a viewer watches movies, the less (overall) of the annual production they will likely consume.

For instance, a viewer who finds they are a fan of romantic commedy, may seek to see a movie a week (its a figure, don't worry too much about it)  which means they want to see 52 romantic comedies a year.  What do they do if they can't find something to watch?  (Go elsewhere, do something else... probably)  The point is that they cannot point this out to the industry... cause the industry is a figment of the collective rabble.  Keep in mind that romantic comedy is a very well represented genre in the movie back catalog.

In the event that we look at a fan of a smaller genre...say sci-fi thrillers.  Then they may be offered a new release bi-yearly... if that.  How does "the industry" (fictional group... I know) expect to keep that persons attention?  They can keep up with the new releases if they have a move marathon once every decade... yah!
The other thing is that they can work through the existing back catalog of all sci-fi thrillers ever made in a couple of weeks of casual viewing.  Job done.  Genre exhausted.

"The Industry" has simply failed them.  They may go and find something else to entertain themselves... but its random chance if that thing happens to be another genre of movies. Its just as likely to be any other entertainment... sport, games, porn, fine art restoration, busking.... racing goats... whatever.  The odds are against the movie industry getting them back as a paying customer.

My point?  Ok... I think the thing that has spoilt the party is simply access to databases of movies.  Its now possible to search through the genre that you are interested in and tick off all the ones you have seen, all the ones you would like to see and any that you never want to see...and get a survey of the scope of the situation.  There is no longer any mystery.  No hope that there is one out there that will keep you interested and searching.  You can be sure.

I've done this with the Genres that I'm interested in.  I can see the end of my movie watching fast approching.  I have certainty that I'm done!  Now its just maintenance mode.  As new movies come out, I can catch up with them in my own time and tick them off.  In between I can re-watch some of the good ones... but essentially there is not a lot left for me.  I have thoughly checked all the other genres and frankly, they're just not interesting.  Chances are that I am un-representative of the rest of the movie watching population... but as it gets easier and software takes over helping people to organise their media collections... I expect this "ticking off" exercise to be simpler.   The only hope is that there will be some feedback to the industry to give them (collectivly) a better idea of the genres and the frequency of delivery that will hold their audience.

After a lifetime of regular cinema and movie watching.... its a bit sad to see the end of it.  But unless things change, there's really only one movie yet to be released that I am looking forward to and thats it.

TV Series are a different matter.  I think they are filling the space between movies for a lot of the genres.  The problem with TV Series is simply the commitment from a production company is so much greater.  This makes it harder to get niche genre series off the ground.  I wonder what the failure dynamics are with niche series? I wonder if becuase its in a less crowded niche that there is less risk of failure?  Interesting.

I am a bit vauge as to where I was going with this whole post... probably just that the movie industry is too slow to release anything and that access to databases has removed the uncertainty about the movies that are availible. 

Sketching out an intelligent Audio File Manager...

Itunes has implemented a metadata database with references to the files.  This removes the need to use the fileing system as a simple database and store meta data in tags within the file itself.

The question is what is immutable and what is mutable meta-data.

Name of the track, length, encoding details... artist, which album it was released on, year of release... that kind of thing. These are immutable (to a certain degree)

The mutable meta data is more about how the user wants to arange and manipulate their music collection.  Groups, genres, tags, play lists, mood ratings, star ratings... etc.  How you want to sort, search and filter the items in the library.

Since this set of structures is not unique, clean or complete... its cannot be implemented over the file system+tag structure in use by the majority of music managers.  I also think that iTunes is fundamentally flawed because it enforces the distribution and packaging model favored by music retailers.  The Album.  This is hard wired into its DNA in a way that forces consumers to still consider it as a meaningful entity in the structure.  It's neither valid for the music artist nor for the consumer. It's an artifact of last century.

It's now as valid to subscribe to an artists channel.  Treat them as an entertainment source that the consumer tunes into.  Allow the artist to produce their ideal playlist.   Allow friends to trade play lists like we used to trade mix tapes.  Its what I want to listen to ... how I want to hear it.

Mashups are the next level of sophistication for the music listener.  Again similar to a mixtape... but with the possibility of interactive scripting.  Put branch points and structure in a play list. Let it adapt the volume and tempo to suit the mood of the listener.  Call it a MixList.

Develop a killer mixlist for listening to over dinner... then once the kids are in bed... change the groove for some quiet time... or rev your engine in thats how you roll.  Having your own personal channel that feeds from a range of sources personalises it to whats going on, how you are feeling and where you want the music scape to take you...

 Now how to make the beast?  Seems simple enough... but is this a media manager?  Its more like an AI driven media player.

For a media curator... well thats something different.  This is simply a tool.  It cleans up and maintains your library.  All the basics like filing and taking out the garbage.  It could also troll for new material.  Automatically download based on preferences.  Slide them into your music time when you are in the mood to experiment and see how you respond.

The next level is developing an engine that can analyse the music itself and do some sorting and categorising for you... and then build this information into the sound feed.

Profit Motive vs. Profit Imperitive

The Uni has been in transition for some time.  Courses have started to pay their way, schools are having to justify their budgets under more and more pressure. The endless tension between the "The University as Vocational Training Provider" and the "The University as a seperate world of pure quest for knowledge" points of view are still alive and well.

For me, this is no bad thing.  As I see the Vocational Training market as a very goal directed activity.  Its simply a business.  Deliver the product as efficiently as possible and go home. Cheap, push the cost onto the consumer, pay the staff a minimum wage, get accredited every so often, strip the library and the infrastructure down to the minimum. Get Focused and go hard.  The infusion of this point of view

On the other hand is the purist pursuit of knowledge through research and discovery.  (A secondary objective is training more researchers for the next generation) which has no relationship between input and outputs, no firm time frames and no clear value proposition for the community. (Every one acknowledges that value is generally created over the long term but its a bastard to put a number or a time frame upon beforehand).  The point is that the two processes are so completely seperate in funding model, return model, staffing model, mindset... everything.

Somewhere in the middle is "Commercial Research" and "Private-Public-Partnership Research"  which is complicated because its usually managed as a goal directed activity, but suffers all the uncertainty of cost/labour/time/outcome any other form of "research".

Additionally there are all the other lifestyle derived agenda's ( mooching, freedom to waste time and money.... free food, travel, going to conferences as you like, publishing anything that goes through your head, retirement with pay, having slaves to do your photocopying, being worshipped by students, allowing your ego time to grow unconstrained.... endless access to books, talking shit with other smart people, meeting and breeding with other clever people)  are desired but difficult to publicly support in these times of fiscal constraint.

I think its a game of state-the-obvious that most of the above agenda's do not fit with the "The University as Vocational Training Provider" model. 

Gypsy vs. Farmer Strategy

Farmer Strategy - Pick a location, intensivly husband the area/resources, invest in infrastructure to improve area/resources. Store resources for seasonal lean periods.  Attempt to reduce the cost of resources/harvesting/storing by carefully investing in infrastructure/inventions/other strategies. No limit on size or volume of assets. Currency needs to only be locally valid (Reputation, trust, labour, relationships etc)

Gypsy Strategy - Travel to location, harvest area/resources while resources are cheap and easy to gather, then relocate to new area.  Invest only in what you can carry/move. Any infrastructure must be abandoned, so is a cost. Store nothing but fat. Reduce all wealth to smallest, lightes    items (gold, jewlery?) All currency must be portable. (Money)

Hunter/Gatherer Stategy is somewhere in between.   Some systems worked cyclicly, where the tribe/group moves around between fairly fixed locations based on natural features (Caves, seasonal crops, seasonal animal migrations etc) 

All strategies are successful within a facilitating context the issue's arise when two groups are trying to practice different strategies within the same limited resource pool.

In that case the Gypsy strategy ( assuming there is actually another location to move to - otherwise it would violate one of the assumptions for that strategy), they arrive and try to take all the low hanging fruit.  If the Farmer is already there... then the low hanging fruit is probably a substantive part of their "cash crop".  So, competition in all its glory.  However, in the case where the Famer has already cleared the low hanging fruit, then the Gypsy strategy fails, as they arive in an area that is relativly resource poor for their needs. They have no infrastructure with which to value add what resources they are able to harvest and so will probably move on quickly. Alternatly, they may seek to aquire the resources from any locals, by trade, theft, trickery etc. The final option is to move to the more successful farming strategy... but that has a very slow initial payoff which is unlikely.  Generally, they will probably move on, as the Gypsy strategy has this adaption as one of its base assumptions.  When resources are scarse... move to where resources are rich.

I guess in that respect, the farming strategy also has that assumption... but with a much higher cost-to-move.  I would phrase it as:  when farming is not viable... Pack up what you can transport and move to where farming is viable.  (Then go back and grab anything else thats not nailed down; take a crowbar if it is nailed down)

The conflict between these two strategies has been played out in any number of films and historical scenarios.  There is no obvious "better" strategy in even general scenarios.  Its only under harsh conditions that either or both of these strategies start to fail.

The Farming Strategy will fail when the resources in the local area are depleated to the point where the farmer(s) cannot sustain themselves through a seasonal cycle. (And they are unable to relocate to a suitable location)
The Gypsy strategy will fail when they cannot sustain themselves through the time it takes to move from one location of scarsity to another location of sufficient resources. Obviously being able to aquire resources along the route of travel will extend this time...but the rule still holds.

I have also been thinking about how the two strategies can complement each other. 

In the social context, consider a scenario where a small village is visited by Gypsy's (or traders or whatever name works).  Members of either community can "swap" strategies.  Those who wish to transition to the Farming Stategy can "marry" into the farming community, while those Farmers who have itchy feet can take off with the Gypsys.  As usual there are "people factors" that will probably get in the way, but the concept is essentially symmetrical.   It would be interesting to see how this played out under different scenarios of plentiful and scarse resources.  We would probably see the same sorts of Immigration and Migration that we see in history.  (Also all the issues that derive from scarsity of resources (or the perception of scarsity) such as "The're tak'n our jobs/daughters/houses/etc") The Australian scenario with the "Boat People" is an endlessly depressing example of this kind of social movement and the attitudes that it engenders.

I think the two strategies are probably more likely "complementary" and allow social groups to transition from one area to another in times of hardship.... while settling down and moving into a farming mentality when the location seems worth investing in.  The assumptions for either strategy are complex and probably need to be explored in detail.

* Resources in region
* Accessability and cost of harvest for the resource
* Access to "Other Locations"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How do you prioritize research article

How do you prioritize research?  Very succinct post that captures some very nice ideas. 

Apple Tax vs. Dead Engineers

I just read an article on some of the "Apple Tax" arguments surrounding the Samsung vs Apple patent suits.  (Here is the Article)  While I think the article is a pretty good summary of the various strategies that the big tech companies have been employing.  It got me thinking about an alternate universe in which software patents were not legal.

In the patent free universe, there is no legal framework in which to apply pressure to your competitors.  So similar to our world, companies can compete for eyeballs, shelf space, prime product positioning etc via their marketing budgets.  I guess similar to our world... great marketing only gets you so far.  The only real difference would potentially be a mechanism where by one company could saturate the marketing space and thus deny access by the customers to knowledge of the other companies product.  Could work.

The second aspect is product differentiation.  If cloning products were legal, then what strategies could companies use to differentiate themselves?  Either move faster than the other company or retard that companies ability to move fast.  By what means? 

One mechanism, as in our world is to compete for talent.  Hiring the best and brightest is one way to execute the "Move Faster" strategy.  But there are only so many great engineers and like star athletes... soon the pay checks would be idiotic relative to the actual talent.  But... it could happen.  Rock-Star developers and a cult of the cooolest dev.... "Look pretty and code hard"... I can see that on a tee-shirt!

But whats the converse?  Retarding the competitors ability to move fast? .... Well... thats either removing their talent by hireing them away,  removing their ability to be productive (sabotage, industrial espionage, hacking) or in the extreeme case... remove their ability; full stop.  Have I gone too "Cyberpunk" for anyone?

The point I am making is that if the software patent mechanism (as flawed as it seems) was not availible as a forum for the heavyweights to punch it out... then where would all that power go?  The urge to beat each other would still be there... but it would be expressed in other mechanisms.  The marketing war is pretty unconstrained and realistically... does not differentiate the contentders.  They are still bound by a legal and social framework... so they can only exercise one strategy ("Move Faster").  There are very few specific product marketing campaigns (Except in politics) that have successfully used the other strategy ("Prevent the opposition moving fast")There have certainly been a few that dabbled in it... but nothing like the sledging that could go on if it was no-holds-barred.  Generally thats left to the tech reviewers....

So what channel would the endless bitter punchup move into? 

This is like looking at the history of the nation states over the past couple of centuries.  One gets an upper hand, so the others move in and sabotage, kidnap and murder their way around the advantage.  When there is a forum for overt conflict... they go at it hammer and tongs.... when there is not... covert conflict takes over.  At no point is there any lessening of the urge....

So perhaps we should be greatful for the software patent system.  Perhaps channelling their fury into the court room is much less evil than having all those resource channelled into crippling each other in less pleasant ways... like playing hunt the developer. 

You may now break out your best Keanu Reeves impression....

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Social Isolation...

I'm intrigued by the affect of social isolation and loss on social individuals.

How do you model and predict the behaviour of an agent who is defined by their social context and environment when they are removed from it. 

I have been watching some interesting movies and tv shows and have come up with the following groups of scenarios.

1) Foreced removal from society.
 -- Prison
 -- castaway / Marooned
 -- Medical isolation
 -- Disfigurement and social rejection
 -- Mental illness (Its a bit broad...)
 -- Long distance travel (Ship, space craft)
 -- Remote working location

2) Small group isolation
 -- remote working camp/installation, weather stations
 -- Submarines, warships, slow freighters
 -- One way trip to Mars

All these scenarios are underpinned by the knowledge that the society still exists somewhere and may or may not be accessible to the agent.  They are also aware that society has not ground to a halt without them... which highlights their insignificance.

The second group is the opposite, where the individual or group knows/suspects/fears that society as they knew it is gone.

3) Post apocalytic
 -- After the plague/ware/virus etc
 -- Alien invasion / Extermination
 -- Time Travellers and Rip van Winkle types.  Also long term Coma patients.

The key part of this scenario is the individual / group knows that its all gone and the context they were familiar with has fragmented.  There will be surviving fragments but there is no overarching "social context".

4) Alternate Society
 -- Cult / Sect / Secret Society etc
 -- Family in foreighn country
 -- Refugees
 -- Gullivers Travels

This is the concept of your micro society being surrounded by an Alien group, who may not wish you harm (or they may) but are trying to consume and suplant your society.  How do you deal with isolation and lack of contact with the familiar.

The question on my mind is just what happens and what drives social creatures once their social context is removed.  How much of them "is lost", how much "remains" and what grows in its place.

How do individuals deal with the big questions when there is no one around to see it happen. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Yet another hardware hacking site

Shelling Tipping Game Extensions

I have been playing with the Shelling Tipping Game Demo.

My first through is that there are lots of fun little permutations on this rule set...

* Add breeding. ( A happy agent can reproduce after a given period) This increases competition for the availible squares and grows neighbourhoods via numbers.

* Add renting/owning ( Moving to a new square is "renting", once happy, the agent can "buy" the square.  But an unhappy renter can be pushed out by an agent who will be happier in that square.) This allows the neighbourhoods to displace nearby "unhappy" agents and push them out)

* Add attrition ( kinda sim city-esq)  Where random squares are "vacated" no matter their happiness. (Simulate death, relocation etc)

* Add reputation - Certain squares and areas become "on the nose" and add misery to an agent who lands next to them. This simulates the perception of a bad neibourhood.  This will only work where there is low population density that allows space to "avoid" the bad neighbourhood. ( Simulate the "problem tenant" in a block of flats.  )

* Obstacles - The board already has edges which do serve the same purpose, but the rules have been constructed to be impervious to their effects in a way.  But this still causes the corner blocks to be the prefereable location to build a neigbourhood around as its harder to be displaced from the corner. 

The next idea is simply about the nature of the agents. 

The agents are nice and simple and are only motivated to make a "move" decision and the following square selection when they are distubed by their happiness threshold.

Happiness Theshold trigger > Move Decision.

This makes for an elegantly simple model but a fairly predictable outcome.  This is barely a step above conways game of life.  From my reading of the rules of the game, the Agents State triggers the move, and its then only an issue of making a move to another square.  Thats why we end up with agenst in high population densities who ossciate between two equally poor squares.

The thought that occured to me is firstly that an agent with a number of triggers is going to be more complex but is still blindly reacting.  I.e

Happiness Trigger |
Sadness Trigger    |  -> Move Decision
Hunger Trigger      |

The next stage in complexity is to have a feedback loop between and the Agents Internal State and the Decision that it makes.  This then should prevent moves to equal or worse positions.  (Which may generate gridlock in congested worlds)  but prevents the agents simply randomly fluttering. Keep in mind we are not trying to model grains of sand... we are trying to describe people in social environments.

So where you have multiple drivers, the decision made should be influenced by the state of all the drivers... This makes for a more complex simulation and explanation model.

The next extension is to use the activation/supression model to select among the drivers to see which one drives the decision making ( either that or a weight and filter model... both have similar outcomes) This level of complexity should be adequate to model a fairly large range of social processes.  (My guess is that we could cook most social processes down to under half a dozen drivers for most practical purposes)  (Must get around to testing this hypothesis at some point in all my free time....)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More Agent Based Modelling Links