sexta-feira, 27 de novembro de 2009

The Intelligent Quotient (IQ) of Evolution

I'm going through the first three chapters of the excellent 1999's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" by Ray Kurzweil. So far, it has been a mix of everything: from cosmology, biology and information theory to computer science, nanoengineering and philosophy. I'm quite amazed on the way Ray was able to deliver all of those breathtaking subjects in less then one hundred pages without making things obscure or even scary to the non-initiated.

Take for instance the discussion going on chapter 2 about the IQ of evolution. He concludes that it should be no better than an infinitesimal quantity greater than zero, given the great lenght of time (in a scale of billions of years) that was needed to evolve some remarkable things such as the human brain. Of course, Ray is agreeing whith many psychologists who evaluate an intelligent process in terms of the elapsed time to reach a solution, i.e., the quicker the better.

The most interesting conclusion drawn here, though, is that all the astonishing complexity observed in Nature is a byproduct of only a slight amount of order encompassed by the emergence of extraordinarily intricate chemical and biological patterns formed apparently by chance.

I'm enjoying it so much!

quinta-feira, 26 de novembro de 2009

Conferences vs. Journal publications in CS

This was originally posted as a comment in the GPEMJournal blog:

While deadlines, as well as all the follow-up review process which is needed to have a work considered for publication in journals, might directly affect the publishing preferences of many computer scientists towards conferences and workshops, these factors alone don't help me to understand why the same effect does not occur in other related areas. In other words, if these were two of the primary causes behind, we would see the same happening among, say, physicists and mathematicians. Yet this does not seem to be the case.

I sincerely believe that there is one simpler factor that could also be considered in the specific case of CS: the relative lack of maturity of the field regarding consolidated research methodologies and data analysis. Of course, working in a scientific field with less than 60 years do not help us much. We're often borrowing ideas and methodologies from other areas and, still, there's no concensus on, say, which statistical tests are more appropriate.

So, this may perhaps explain why someone in the CS field might think that it's no use considering to fufill journal reviewers and editors' requests - who are mainly (and correctly) concerned with methodological issues - when one can bypass this process and have his/her results published immediately in somewhat respectful and prestigious conferences.

quinta-feira, 12 de novembro de 2009

Smart Dust

I've transcribed today a short video about Smart Dust technology. It was quite difficult, given some rapid passages. The accent of Dr. Kris Pisters from Berkeley didn't help much too. I found at least two passages which were challenging to understand.

Anyway, even not being a native speaker, I think I did a good job on this one. The translation to brazilian Portuguese is also done.

I'm enjoying the dotSub transcipt/translation interface very much.

Here it goes:

Education: when will it be taken seriously?

While a strong background education is mandatory if one wants to succeed in modern society, it's not enough for fufilling the urge of turnning such society into a cooperative and sustainable one. My main concerns with the way people are being educated nowadays regards to the lack of meta-learning activities in school's curriculums, as well as to the ever-increasing number of lectures and professors who are not fully engaged into the quest of teaching students to think for themselves and to be highly motivated towards the subjects which interest them the most.

Firstly, standard schools don't have disciplines which could offer students any directions on how to learn effectively. Most youngsters face this problem and often give in from trying to properly understand essential topics. As a consequence, there are many professionals who do not quite fill well with highly demanding jobs just because  they miss the "know how" which was lost somewhere in their time as students. This also prevents them to continuously learn after they complete their formal education.

Then, there's the issue of the lack of commitment from teachers with their classes. They should find ways to stimulate learners towards self-learning activities, yet they often do the opposite by focusing their classes on standardized tests and pre-arranged formulas for problem-solving taks which are neither challenging or representative of the real world. Moreover, good classes need context, and this is being totally neglected by today's teachers.

Therefore, by approaching these problems in our educational systems through practical and effective actions at every level, we'll be ready to face the grand challenge of building a better future for the next generations of learners.

The biological and cultural ethereal conflict

To the extent Nature is conceived, marriage should never stand against our intrinsic polygamic instincts driven by our biologically pre-programmed ultimate goal of self-reproducing. Hence, it's not surprising that both men and women are following their basic instincts in the grounds of divorce, since no single life-form on Earth has been ever evolved to establish long-term matrimonial unions. However, it's well known that Humans, as highly susceptible to culture and morality, are being pushed towards the establishment of solid relationships, which in turn have been proved to play an important role in social mobility.

Based on these assumptions, it seems clear to me that there's a conflict of interests between our biological and social goals. On one hand, there's the need for each human of serving as generators of genetic diversity for the sake of continuous biological evolution, which is still happening among the human race. It's interesting to note, though, that our needs as social beings go straight in the opposite direction: we don't want to change our sexual partners all the time (at least when it comes to kinship descending) and, therefore, we end up by slowing down the diversity generation process in human race by preferring stable matrimonial engagements under social standards.

It turns out that there is a noticeable and complex interaction between genes and memes. This has been already observed by many researchers, including those working on memetic computing field. Since it seems that social evolution is surpassing biological evolution in terms of how much they affect human development (just look at how technology and culture are rapidly changing human behavior under a much higher pace than genes have done before the last decades), it's reasonable to imagine that there will come the day when the human race will transcend from its old-fashioned biological prision (i.e., the carbon-based "survival machines" of Richard Dawkins) to perpetuate itself through cultural and technological meanings.

Again, nothing new here, yet another appealing topic which should be more often discussed by academics.