Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It's official - Alan #Turing is pardoned!!!

Great news to almost end the year on. Here's the official press release announcing a pardon for Alan Turing under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, which came into effect today.

PARDON FOR WW2 CODE-BREAKER TURING
By Jamie Grierson, Press Association Home Affairs Correspondent

Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous
royal pardon for a 61-year-old conviction for homosexual activity. Dr
Turing, who was pivotal in breaking the Enigma code, arguably shortening
the Second World War by at least two years, was chemically castrated
following his conviction in 1952.

His conviction for "gross indecency" led to the removal of his security
clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government
Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work
following service at Bletchley Park during the war.

Dr Turing, who died aged 41 in 1954 and is often described as the father
of modern computing, has been granted a pardon under the Royal Prerogative
of Mercy by the Queen following a request from Justice Secretary Chris
Grayling. "Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind,"
Mr Grayling said.

"His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the Second
World War where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end
the war and save thousands of lives.

"His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual
activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and
which has now been repealed.

"Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic
contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from
the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man."

Dr Turing died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest recorded a verdict of
suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was
accidental.

There has been a long campaign to clear the mathematician's name,
including a well-supported e- petition and private member's bill, along
with support from leading scientists such as Sir Stephen Hawking.

The pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy will come into effect
today. The Justice Secretary has the power to ask the Queen to grant a
pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, for civilians convicted in
England and Wales.

A pardon is only normally granted when the person is innocent of the
offence and where a request has been made by someone with a vested
interest such as a family member. But on this occasion a pardon has been
issued without either requirement being met.

In September 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologised to Dr
Turing for prosecuting him as a homosexual after a petition calling for
such a move.

An e-petiton - titled "Grant a pardon to Alan Turing" - received 37,404
signatures when it closed in November last year. The request was declined
by Lord McNally on the grounds that Dr Turing was properly convicted of

what at the time was a criminal offence.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

ELSIE hiding in Dunedin

Last week I was in Dunedin and visited the Otago Settlers Museum. Hidden amongst exhibits about Dunedin's pioneer settlers, at the farthest reaches of the museum, behind the old motor vehicles was a collection of computers, including the rare ELSIE computer, which used to be used for drawing Bonus Bond winners. You never know what you'll find in a museum.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Zealand Computer Museum

This is exciting news. Plans are underway to establish a New Zealand Computer Museum in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter down by the waterfront. The organisers have the support of major patrons and organisations such as Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), The Institute of IT Professionals (formerly the New Zealand Computer Society) and Auckland University Computer Science Department. You can find out more information and support this project via their crowd-funding campaign and their Facebook page


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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Strandbeest - kinetic sculptures

My colleague Bob Doran put me onto this; nothing to do with computing but it certainly is fasinating. Theo Jansen's Strandbeests are wind powered sculptures that use biologically inspired mechanisms to move. Watch the video below to see the remarkable strandbeests.


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Monday, November 18, 2013

Earn college credits whilst working for Facebook

Facebook has announced that it is partnering with US university computer science departments to provide open source projects for students to work on. The students will earn credits whilst working on projects suggested by Facebook engineers. CompSci students who are interested in participating can visit Facebook's Open Academy Program page. Of course you'll have to persuade your professors to join the program for you to earn credit.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

#Apple's wise maps decision

A year ago Apple was taking a lot of criticism for its decision to kick Google Maps of the iOS platform. I in a post titled "Apple's mapocalypse" took a different view - for competitive reasons Apple had to develop its own mapping and location services. It now seems that Apple (and I) were right; the Guardian in an article titled "Apple maps: how Google lost when everyone thought it had won" shows that a year on Google has lost tens of millions of Google Map users to Apple in the US alone.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Computer history on display at Auckland University

The Institute of IT Professionals blog features the (re)-opening of the  NZ Computer Timeline last Thursday 7 November. In an extended photo essay the blog post not only features the new timeline but other works of art and historical exhibits from through out the Computer Science Department's computing history displays. If you're in Auckland you're welcome to drop in and tour the displays.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rock paper scissors robot wins every time!

Watch the video below of the Japanese Ishikawa Oku Laboratory's Janken robot winning at rock-paper-scissors 100% of the time. Technically it's cheating as it uses high-speed recognition and reaction to operate its hand-like machinery, which takes one millisecond to recognise what shape the human hand is making.


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Friday, November 1, 2013

Facebook to use Artificial Intelligence

Another Facebook story this week; Australian Business Insider reports that Facebook is aplanning to use AI and voice recognition to provide search. Mark Zuckerberg is reported as saying "In September, we formed the Facebook AI Group to do world-class artificial intelligence research using all the knowledge that people have shared on Facebook. The goal here is to use new approaches in AI to help make sense of all the content that people share so we can generate new insights about the world to answer people's questions." Personally I don't believe Facebook will ever be a serious player in the search area since despite the massive number of posts it archives the content is just too random to be really useful.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kids see Facebook like adults see LinkedIn

This interesting article on TechCrunch explains the appeal of services like SnapChat to teenagers. It's really quite simple, social media savvy teens are wary of leaving a permanent record of their opinions and behaviour on sites like Facebook, just as we adults seek to present our best side to professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Bill Gurley, of SnapChat, explains why ephemeral messaging is on the rise: "For kids, the Internet is increasingly becoming a place that you can't share, that you can't have fun, that you can't socialize in the way you want to. I think that's really the essence of Snapchat. It's a platform where they can communicate and have fun without any anxiety about the permanence. You hear about kids not getting jobs because of what's on their Facebook page." So far from being merely a service for sexting, SnapChat allows youngsters the freedom to be young.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Would you like ultra ultra fast broadband?

Most people always want the Internet to go faster. Currently you might be able to get residential broadband at around 10 to 70Mbps depending on where you live. NASA has just tested an Internet connection of 622Mbps over a distance of 239,000 miles. They're not using fibre. They fired a laser at a satellite orbiting the moon. Watch the video below to find out more.


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Monday, October 21, 2013

IBM unveils computer fed by 'electronic blood'You've probably heard o

You've probably heard of Moore's Law that has predicted that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. The problem is that we are nearing the physical limits of our ability to miniaturise these circuits. Our current solution is to stack chips to make multi-chip cores. The problem with this is cooling the chips, which tend to get very hot. The BBC reports that IBM are developing a novel approach in which a fluid of vanadium is used to both power the chip and cool it simultaneously. The advantage of this is that the design doesn't need two separate circuits, one for power and the other for cooling. This IBM scientists state is inspired by the brain where our blood provides both energy to the brain and cooling, resulting in a very efficient system.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ConceptNet — a practical commonsense reasoning tool-kit

Computers are quite good now at dealing with specifics: you can ask Siri "how far is it to the moon?" and it will reply "about 376,000 kilometers," but computers still struggle with common sense knowledge. For example, if someone says, "I want some chips right now," humans will often interpret "chips" as meaning potato chips. But "chips" may easily confuse a computer system. Are we talking about potato chips? Computer chips? Wood chips? Poker Chips? To solve this type of problem researchers at MIT's Media Lab have developed ConceptNet, which they describe as: " a freely available common sense knowledge base and natural-language-processing tool-kit which supports many practical textual-reasoning tasks over real-world documents including topic-gisting, analogy-making, and other context oriented inferences. The knowledge base is a semantic network presently consisting of over 1.6 million assertions of common sense knowledge encompassing the spatial, physical, social, temporal, and psychological aspects of everyday life. ConceptNet is generated automatically from the 700 000 sentences of the Open Mind Common Sense Project — a World Wide Web based collaboration with over 14,000 authors."
   ConceptNet recently took an intelligence test and scored about the same as a 4 year old child, but since then its knowledge-base has increased ten fold. Are computers that can really understand what we say almost with us? ConceptNet is an open source project, with a Python implementation and a API that anyone can use to add computational common sense to their own project.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Computer Science contributes to Nobel Prize win

Michael Levitt,  of Stanford University; Martin Karplus of Strasbourg University; and Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California have been awarded the Nobel Prize for  chemistry. However the researchers themselves acknowledge that their breakthroughs in modeling proteins couldn't have been done without recent advances in computing. In an article by the BBC Michael Levitt said this success was due in large part to the spectacular performance of modern computing: "I've told people that the silent partner in this prize is the incredible development in computer power. When we started this, no-one had any clue that computers were going to become so powerful; no-one knew about Moore's Law. This incredible increase in computer power has taken everybody by surprise, and I think this is one of the reasons why our field has become so important. And it's just going to get bigger and bigger."
[This post was suggested by Mark Wilson]

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The first home video game console

The first home video game console wasn't the Atari Pong. A reader of The Universal Machine pointed out the Magnavox Odyssey to me, which was released in August 1972 a full three years before Atari. In fact Pong was based on a ping-pong game that shipped with the Odyssey. Sales of the Odyssey were poor caused by bad marketing and many customers mistaken belief that the console would only work with Magnavox television sets. When Atari subsequently released Pong Magnovox successfully sued them (and many other imitators) for patent infringement. So we now know what the first video game console was but what was the first video game? This is a complex issue that Wikipedia devotes a whole entry to.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Big Data and the America's Cup

With the America's Cup still very much in the news an article in today's New Zealand Herald highlights the role that ex University of Auckland students played in the success of Oracle Team USA and in the development of Emirate's Team New Zealand's boats. In particular the Engineering Faculty's Yacht Research Unit has played a key role in the Kiwi's success since 1987 and we can expect it to do so in the future.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Computer science wins the 34th America's Cup

Well it wasn't the result we wanted but today we finally learned what won the America's Cup - it was computer science. No I don't mean Oracle (though of course Oracle Team USA did win). I mean Oracle's Speed Augmentation System (SAS). This is an automated computer controlled fly-by-wire system that adjusts Oracle's hydrofoils automatically. Team New Zealand's hydrofoils are adjusted manually by a crew member. Apparently Boeing helped OTUSA with the technology, which is essentially the same as the fly-by-wire systems that continually adjust the flight surfaces of modern aircraft. This explains the remarkable speed gains that OTUSA have shown in the last 10 days, effectively locking the Kiwi's out of the cup. The SAS just gives OTUSA a more stable foiling platform and stability equals speed. So far other that what the TV commentators have been saying I've been unable to find any details of the system online, but I'll keep looking. 

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Simpsons - a cartoon for mathletes

The Guardian reports that the popular long-running TV cartoon series the Simpsons is written by and for math geeks. Apparently hidden within many episodes are references to obscure (and not so obscure) mathematical expressions, formulae and facts including: Fermat's last theorem, perfect numbers, a narcissistic number, a Mersenne prime (all shown in the picture to the right), Euler's identity, a googolplex, the mass of the Higgs boson, appearances by the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, numerous jokes about π and of course the all important geometry of doughnuts. And you thought it was just a kids show.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mitsuku chat bot wins AI's Loebner contest

The BBC has reported that a chat bot called Mitsuku, originally designed for a music website, has won the annual AI Loebner contest. The annual Loebner contest is really a Turing test, where chat bots have to convince human judges that they are human. Briton Steve Worswick, who wrote Mitsuku, won $4,000 meaning the judges found it to be the best chat bot entered. Mitsuku did not win the $100,000 Grand Prize meaning it hadn't convinced the judges it was human. Why not give Mitsuku a try yourself and you can be the judge.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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