Learn to code!

There’s been a growing realisation amongst educators that the previous decades’ approach to ICT instruction has failed. Teaching children (or adults) to use application software like MS Word, Excel or PowerPoint is not teaching them how to use computers – it’s just teaching them how to use applications. To learn how to really use the power of a computer you have to learn to program, or “code” as the Americans call it. The amazing success of the Raspberry Pi – a computer that costs $25 that schools can use to teach programming, has  shown that there is a strong demand for this.
   A new non-profit called code.org aims to encourage young and old alike to learn how to really use a computer. A motivational video that they’ve produced features Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey and others encouraging everyone to “learn to code.” As Steve Jobs said, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” 

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/02/learn-to-code.html

Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

An interesting new scientific award has been making the news recently – the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Endowed by Internet billionaires Art Levinson, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan and Yuri Milner the prize aims to recocognise “excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” The award seems laudable, but GrrlScientist and Bob O’Hara, writing in The Guardian, argue that it is misguided and flawed.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/02/breakthrough-prize-in-life-sciences.html

What would you do if you had Glass? #projectglass

Google is inviting people to take part in the Google Glass project. I’ve blogged about the Google Glasses before and now Google is inviting anyone with a good idea for how to use the augmented reality glasses to tell them about it. The winners will be able to become a Glass Explorer and I assume build their application for use on the glasses. There is a catch, you have to be in the US and have $1,500 (USD) to partake. The deadline for entry is Feb 27. Visit the Glass Project website for more information

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/02/what-would-you-do-if-you-had-glass.html

Learning to play poker…

The Game AI group at the University of Auckland have been playing poker since 2007. Over the years a case-based Texas Hold’em poker bot, called Sartre, has been improving its performance both against other poker bots in the Annual Computer Poker Competition and people via our online poker bot.  The online poker bot retains each hand of poker played as a new case and so over time it learns to play against people better as it’s experience of the game grows.
    When you play against Sartre you may win several hands in a row, you may even win a considerable number of hands. But, on the whole Satre wins and the graph below proves it. Sartre is now consistently on average winning 0.35 sb/h. It is consistently in profit. Of course this comes with a big caveat – we’re not playing for real money and consequently some players tend not to fold when the should because they want to see the outcome of the hand. However, there are plenty of trusted sites like this RTG Online Casino where you can risk you money and test you skill should you want to.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/02/learning-to-play-poker.html

A Bionic hand that can feel

We’ve become almost accustomed now to the sight of an amputee controlling a robotic limb by thought alone. But a great impediment to creating truly life-like robotic limbs has been providing sensory feedback to the amputee – i.e., touch. Researchers from the Swiss-based Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have recently announced that they are preparing to fit a bionic hand to a man in Rome. If successful this will be a real breakthrough since it should allow a person to control the limb much more accurately .

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-bionic-hand-that-can-feel.html

A movie about a healthcare robot

Yes really, a movie about a healthcare robot set in “the near future” called Robot & Frank. The movie is about the growing relationship between a curmudgeonly ex-cat-burglar, Frank, and a healthcare robot, just called Robot. The robot’s prime directive is to improve Frank’s health so it ends up encouraging him to plan a burglary, since the planning stimulates his mind. The robot acquiesces to taking part in the heist when Frank promises to commit to a low sodium diet. Any more would give too much of the story away. The movie is low key and will probably slip under the radar despite having a great cast. Some of the AI is quite accurate; I particularly enjoyed the use of “brute force search” to crack a 3 digit safe code.
   Don’t think that healthcare robotics is just science fiction, many researchers, including colleagues in the University of Auckland, are actively working in this area and expect healthcare robots to be a reality in, as this movie says, “the near future.”

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-movie-about-healthcare-robot.html

Algorithms: not just for computers

By Mark Wilson
Recently I visited a branch library with my sons and checked out a large number of books for them, using the self-checkout. On leaving, we set off the alarm, because at least one book had not been correctly scanned. A librarian seized the pile of books, and proceeded to determine the offending book by binary search using the alarm (his algorithm may not have worked completely if more than one book was unscanned, so he performed a final check on the original pile, after scanning the one he found). His colleague was amazed and said that everyone else uses (in effect) sequential search of the receipt, checking it with the books in hand. I was amazed: both that someone that clever was working as a librarian, and that I had finally found a real-life application of an algorithm “in the wild”. I try to give many such examples when teaching algorithms courses, but they always have a slightly contrived feel to them. Of course the game of Twenty Questions is a good motivating example.
    Another two questions were raised in my mind. This librarian was clearly an immigrant from East Asia. Perhaps the education system there is so much better than ours as far as algorithms are concerned. Or perhaps our immigrants are underemployed.
    For more on binary search, covered in our courses COMPSCI 105 and COMPSCI 220, see this Wikipedia article.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/02/algorithms-not-just-for-computers.html