July 13, 2012

Animation 2012: Computer Science for Schools

Animation 2012 at the University of Manchester

Computer Science as a subject in mainstream UK secondary education is in a pretty sorry state [1,2,3] but it’s not all doom and gloom. While many long suffering school children are being force-fed a nauseating diet of Excel, PowerPoint and Access others are enjoying a nutritious platter of Raspberry Pi, Hack to the Future and Animated fun.

Here’s a brief report on one of these tasty appetisers: Animation 2012, a UK schools animation competition now in its fifth year.

The day kicked off with prizes being awarded for the animation competition. To get a flavour of the creativity and skill involved, you can see winning examples online.

Following the prize giving there was a carousel of activities which included:

Animation 2012 was great fun for all involved, congratulations to all this years winners, hope to see you again next year. There were 526 Schools involved from across the UK, with 914 entries. 58 students were involved in the 35 winning entries from 31 different schools. Thanks to Toby Howard, all the organisers, supporters (Google, Electronic Arts and NESTA) and associates (Computing at School, CS4FN and BAFTA young game designers) for putting on an impressive show.


  1. Steve Furber et al (2012). Computing in Schools: Shut down or restart? Royal Society Report
  2. James Robinson (2011). Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system: criticising division between science and arts, The Guardian
  3. Keith Stuart (2011). Michael Gove admits schools should teach computer science: education secretary recognises the failings of ICT courses, The Guardian

June 15, 2012

Alan Turing Centenary Conference, 22nd-25th June 2012

Alan Turing by Michael Dales

The Alan Turing statue at Bletchley Park. Creative commons licensed picture via Michael Dales on Flickr

Next weekend, a bunch of very distinguished computer scientists will rock up at the magnificent Manchester Town Hall for the Turing Centenary Conference in order to analyse the development of Computer ScienceArtificial Intelligence and Alan Turing’s legacy [1].

There’s an impressive and stellar speaker line-up including:

Tickets are not cheap at £450 for four days, but you can sign up for free public lectures by Jack Copeland on Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age and Roger Penrose on the problem of modelling a mathematical mind. Alternatively, if you can lend some time, the conference organisers are looking for volunteers to help out in return for a free conference pass. Contact Vicki Chamberlin for details if you’re interested.


  1. Chouard, T. (2012). Turing at 100: Legacy of a universal mind Nature, 482 (7386), 455-455 DOI: 10.1038/482455a see also nature.com/turing

January 2, 2012

Does Android Dream of Electric Sheep?

Androids by etnyk. What are they thinking?

With more than three million Android devices activated on the 24/25th December 2011 [1] and something like 200 million (or more?) Android devices in total, there are nearly enough droids around to build a primitive brain.

With all that processing power out there, I can’t help but wonder, like Philip K. Dick did, Does Android Dream of Electric Sheep? [2,3]


  1. Andy Rubin (2011) http://twitter.com/Arubin/status/151918325260226561
  2. Philip K. Dick (1967) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  3. Ridley Scott et al (1982) Blade Runner

April 17, 2009

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Google

GoogleVia the Official Google Research Blog at the University of Google, Alon Halevy, Peter Norvig and Fernando Pereira have published an interesting expert opinion piece in the  March/April 2009 edition of IEEE Intelligent Systems: computer.org/intelligent. The paper talks about embracing complexity and making use of the “the unreasonable effectiveness of data” [1] drawing analogies with the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” [2]. There is plenty to agree and disagree with in this provocative article which makes it an entertaining read. So what can we learn from those expert Googlers in the Googleplex? (more…)

July 25, 2006

AAAI’06: Highlights and conclusions

The AAAI conference finished last Thursday, here are some highlights and papers that might be worth reading if you are interested in building and / or using a more “intelligent” (and possibly semantic) web in bioinformatics.

Here are the papers or talks I enjoyed the most and hope you might also find them useful or inspiring.

  1. Unifying Logical and Statistical AI talk given by Pedro Domingos.

    Intelligent agents must be able to handle the complexity and uncertainty of the real world. Logical AI (of which the semantic web is an example) has focused mainly on the former, and statistical AI (e.g. machine learning) on the latter. The two approaches can be united, with significant benefits, some of which are demonstrated by the Alchemy system

  2. Developing an intelligent personal assistant: The CALO (Cognitive Agent at that Learns and Organises) project talk given by Karen Myers.

    CALO is a desktop assistant that learns what you do in the lab / office. Sounds spooky, but involves some interesting technology and fascinating research questions.

  3. Bookmark hierarchies and collaborative recommendation by Ben Markines, Lubomira Stoilova and Filippo Menczer.

    Describes an open-source, academically-oriented social bookmarking site where you can donate your bookmarks to science at givealink

  4. Social network-based Trust in Prioritised Default Logic by Yarden Katz and Jennifer Golbeck.

    Who and how can you trust on the Web?

  5. Google vs Berners-Lee was a memorable debate. According to Jim Hendler, Tim and Peter are reconciling their differences now

Not particularly webby, but…

…entertaining nonetheless.

  1. Stephen Muggletons talk on Computational Biology and Chemical Turing Machines, went down well but unfortunately I was stuck in a parallel track, experiencing “death by ontology”.
  2. Bruce Buchanan gave a talk What Do We Know About Knowledge. A roller-coaster ride through the last 2000+ years of human attempts to understand what knowledge is, how to represent it and why it is powerful
  3. Winning the DARPA Grand Challenge with an AI Robot called Stanley talk given by Sebastian Thrun, amazing presentation on a driving a robotic car through the desert over rough terrain. However, it doesn’t take too much imagination to think of horrific applications of this. Next year they will try to drive it from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a public freeway, and Stanley hasn’t even passed its driving test yet!

Turing’s dream

Appropriately, the conference which was subtitled Celebrating 50 years of AI finished with two talks by Lenhart K. Schubert and Stuart M. Shieber about the Turing test. The first discussed Turing’s dream and the Knowledge Challenge, the second talk asked Does the Turing Test Demonstrate Intelligence or Not? Now I’m back in Manchester, where Turing once worked, I can’t help wondering, what would Alan make of the current state of AI and the semantic web? I think there are several possibilities, he could be thinking:

  • EITHER: Fifty odd years later, they’re not still wasting time working on that Turing test are they?!
  • OR: He is smugly satisifed that he devised a test, that no machine has passed, and perhaps never will, but has provided us with a satisfactory operational definition of “intelligence” ;
  • …AND What the hell is the “Semantic Web”?

We will never know what Alan Turing would make of todays efforts to make a more intelligent web. However, that won’t stop me speculating that he would be impressed by the current uses of computers (intelligent or otherwise) to drive robots through the desert, perform all sort of computations on proteins and to search for information on this massive distributed global knowledge-base we call the “Web”. Not bad for 50 years of work, here’s to the next 50…


  1. Alan Turing (1950) Computing Machinery and Intelligence: The Turing TestMind 59(236):433-460
  2. Stephen H. Muggleton (2006) Exceeding human limits: The Chemical Turing MachineNature 440:409-410
  3. Stephen H. Muggleton (2006) Towards Chemical Universal Turing Machines in Proceedings on the 21st National Conference on Artificial Intelligence
  4. Picture credit: Image from Steve Jurvetson
  5. This post was originally published on nodalpoint with comments

July 21, 2006

AAAI: Dude, Where’s My Service?

GogloAs the number of bioinformatics services on the web increases, finding a tool or database that performs the task you require can be problematic. At the AAAI poster session on Wednesday, I presented our paper describing a novel solution to this problem. It uses a reasoner to “intelligently” search for web services, by semantically matching service requests with advertisements and has some advantages over comparable solutions…

I won’t go into all the gory details here but our technique extends and complements current approaches for matchmaking services. Some of the key features described in the paper are that it allows you describe to relationship(s) between the input and output of a service. E.g. What is the relationship between the input and output protein sequence of InterProScan? This relationship can help match requests for services with their adverts with higher precision and recall. I don’t mind admitting its been hard work getting this research published because a large part of the AI community use shamelessly toy and fictitious scenarios to motivate their work. Then they build incredibly complicated software stacks that are only understood by the small clique of people that designed them. When you show some of these people real-world bioinformatics services, they don’t seem to care too much, preferring to bury their heads in the sand of make-believe. There, thats got it off my chest!

So it was re-assuring when people came by the poster, listened to my speel and asked lots of questions. Ora Lassila from Nokia (one of the people responsible for hyping the whole idea up in the first place) dropped by to have a look. He was interested in adapting the technique for locating services in a registry, used by mobile devices. (I wonder if anyone out there needs BLAST on their mobile phone?!) It was good to meet Ora, and talk about semantics.

There is nothing quite like standing in front of a poster for three hours and tirelessly explaining it to complete strangers who work in disparate fields. It certainly helps to get your ideas straight. Where would we be without conferences?


  1. Danny Leiner (2000) Dude, Where’s My Car?
  2. Massimo Paolucci, Takahiro Kawamura, Terry Payne and Katia Sycara (2002) Semantic Matching of Web Service Capabilities
  3. Duncan Hull, Evgeny Zolin, Andrey Bovykin, Ian Horrocks, Ulrike Sattler and Robert Stevens (2006) Deciding Semantic Matching of Stateless Services in the Proceedings of the Twenty-First National Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-06)

July 19, 2006

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