Lecture notes on AI metaheuristic algorithms

August 23rd, 2009

Sean Luke has made available an open set of lecture notes on metaheuristics algorithms, Essentials of Metaheuristics. Sean defines a metaheuristic as

“A common but unfortunate name for any stochastic optimization algorithm intended to be the last resort before giving up and using random or brute-force search. Such algorithms are used for problems where you don’t know how to find a good solution, but if shown a candidate solution, you can give it a grade. The algorithmic family includes genetic algorithms, hill-climbing, simulated annealing, ant colony optimization, particle swarm optimization, and so on.”

Such AI algorithms are also often called weak methods, but I like the term metaheuristic better.

The lecture notes look great and the chapters can be used independently for self study or to augment topics in a graduate or undergraduate course. Thanks Sean!

(via Don Miner.)

RAEng report on Social, legal and ethical issues of autonomous systems

August 21st, 2009

RAEng report on Social, legal and ethical issues of autonomous systems

The Royal Academy of Engineering has released a report on the social, legal and ethical issues involving autonomous systems — systems that are adaptive, learn and can make decisions without the intervention or supervision of a human.

The report, Autonomous Systems: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues (pdf), was based on a roundtable discussion “from a wide range of experts, looking at the areas where autonomous systems are most likely to emerge first, and discussing the broad ethical issues surrounding their uptake.”

While autonomous systems have broad applicability, the report focuses on two areas: transportation (e.g. autonomous road vehicles) and personal care (e.g., smart homes).

“Autonomous systems, such as fully robotic vehicles that are “driverless” or artificial companions that can provide practical and emotional support to isolated people, have a level of self-determination and decision making ability with the capacity to learn from past performance. Autonomous systems do not experience emotional reactions and can therefore perform better than humans in tasks that are dull, risky or stressful. However they bring with them a new set of ethical problems. What if unpredicted behaviour causes harm? If an unmanned vehicle is involved in an accident, who is responsible – the driver or the systems engineer? Autonomous vehicles could provide benefits for road transport with reduced congestion and safety improvements but there is a lack of a suitable legal framework to address issues such as insurance and driver responsibility.

The technologies for smart homes and patient monitoring are already in existence and provide many benefits to older people, such as allowing them to remain in their own home when recovering from an illness, but they could also lead to isolation from family and friends. Some users may be unfamiliar with the technologies and be unable to give consent to their use.”

The RAEng report recommends “engaging early in public consultation” and working to establish “appropriate regulation and governance so that controls are put in place to guide the development of these systems”.

rdf:SeeAlso Autonomous tech ‘requires debate’; Scientists ponder rules and ethics of robo helpers; Robot cats could care for older Britons.

(via Mike Wooldridge)

Twitter to add support for geogtagging tweet locations

August 21st, 2009

Twitter is adding support for geotagging tweets to their API which will make Twitter a richer source of real-time news. The Twitter blog reports:

“Twitter platform developers have been doing innovative work with location for some time despite having access to only a rudimentary level of API support. Most of the location-based projects we see are built using the simple, account-level location field folks can fill out as part of their profile. Since anything can be written in this field, it’s interesting but not very dependable.

We’re gearing up to launch a new feature which makes Twitter truly location-aware. A new API will allow developers to add latitude and longitude to any tweet. Folks will need to activate this new feature by choice because it will be off by default and the exact location data won’t be stored for an extended period of time. However, if people do opt-in to sharing location on a tweet-by-tweet basis, compelling context will be added to each burst of information.”

This opens up lots of interesting opportunities but there is still room for geotagging from conent. There are more than one relationship between a Tweet (or any utterance) and a location. They include both were the tweeter was when it was issued but also the location of the event or object that’s the tweet’s subject.

For example, the Baltimore police use twitter to inform the press and public about about significant crimes, major traffic problems and other events. There are 10-15 tweets a day in this stream, all sent by an officer in the BPD Public Affairs department. The majority of the tweets mention a location (e.g., “Shooting on Lafayette Ave, Suspect in Police custody, handgun recovered.”) but are, I assume, sent from Public Affairs office. Baltimore city covers a large area, more than 80 square miles. Many residents or reporters will be interested only in events in or effecting the neighborhoods where they live, work or pass through when commuting.

I also wonder if there are more opportunities for Twitter to add semantic metadata to Tweets via their API.

See also: Bits Blog, O’Reilly.

UMBC tops US News and Word Report list of rising national universities

August 20th, 2009

I’m very gratified to see UMBC recognized in the U.S. News and World Report annual report on America’s Best Colleges. UMBC was ranked first on the list of “up-and-coming” national universities and fourth on the list of national universities committed to undergraduate education. UMBC was actually tied for fourth with Stanford on the list of schools most committed to undergraduate teaching, but I think an appropriate tie breaker would be chess and UMBC has always dominated Stanford in the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship.

Most of the details are only available if you purchase the report, but there are stories in today’s Baltimore Sun and Washington Post.

WebFinger: a finger protocol for the Web

August 15th, 2009

Maybe WebFinger will succeed where others have failed. At what? At providing a simple handle for a person that can be easily used to get basic information that the person wants to make available. The WebFinger proposal is to use an email address as the handle.

WebFinger, aka Personal Web Discovery. i.e. We’re bringing back the finger protocol, but using HTTP this time.

Techcrunch has a post on this, Google Points At WebFinger. Your Gmail Address Could Soon Be Your ID with some background.

There’s some excitement around the web today among a certain group of high profile techies. What are they so excited about? Something called WebFinger, and the fact that Google is apparently getting serious about supporting it. So what is it?

It’s an extension of something called the “finger protocol” that was used in the earlier days of the web to identify people by their email addresses. As the web expanded, the finger protocol faded out, but the idea of needing a unified way to identify yourself has not. That’s why you keep hearing about OpenID and the like all the time.

The current focus of the WebFinger group is on developing the spec for accessing a user’s metadata given their handle. Using RDF and the FOAF vocabulary should be a no-brainer for representing the metadata.

URIs as GPS coordinates for knowledge and information

August 15th, 2009

How I Explained REST to My Wife popped up on Hacker News today. While the way Ryan Tomayko frames his description of http protocols stikes many (invcluding me) as sexist, it’s well written and illuminating.

What hit me like a two-by-four up side the head was his characterization of URIs as being like “GPS coordinates for knowledge and information”. Great analogy!

He’s not really talking about the Semantic Web, but he ought to be. I think we should steal borrow his analogy and use it in explaining the central role URIs play for us.

Semantic Web Conference (ISWC 2010), Shanghai China

August 12th, 2009

The ISWC 2010 venue will he the Shanghai International Convention CenterThe Ninth International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC 2010) will be held 7-11 November 2010 in Shanghai China. The conference events will take place at the Shanghai International Convention Center (map).

The ISWC 2010 organizers include general chair Ian Horrocks, program committee chairs Peter F. Patel-Schneider and Yue Pan, local chair Yong Yu and local organization committee members Dingyi Han, Gui-Rong Xue, Haofen Wang and Lei Zhang.

UK Ministry of Defense encourages troops to use social media

August 8th, 2009

The UK’s Ministry of Defense has published a new policy on the use of online social media systems, the Telegraph reports. Troops are no longer required to seek permission to use the sites but are being asked to use common sense about what they discuss and reveal.

The MoD report, Online Engagement Guidelines, says.

1. Service and MOD civilian personnel are encouraged to talk about what they do, but within certain limits to protect security, reputation and privacy. An increasingly important channel for this engagement, and to keep in touch with family and friends is social media (such as social networking sites, blogs and other internet self-publishing). Personnel may make full use of these but must:

  • Follow the same high standards of conduct and behaviour online as would be expected elsewhere;
  • Always maintain personal, information and operational security and be careful about the information they share online;
  • Get authorisation from their chain of command when appropriate (see para 2 below);

2. Service and MOD civilian personnel do not need to seek clearance when talking online about factual, unclassified, uncontroversial non-operational matters, but should seek authorisation from their chain of command before publishing any wider information relating to their work which:

  • Relates to operations or deployments;
  • Offers opinions on wider Defence and Armed Forces activity, or on third parties without their permission; or
  • Attempts to speak, or could be interpreted as speaking, on behalf of your Service or the MOD; or,
  • Relates to controversial, sensitive or political matters.

DoD social media ambivalence

August 7th, 2009

The Department of Defense remains conflicted about their position on social media.

This past Sunday the US Marine Corps announced an immediate ban of Internet social networking sites on their NIPRNET network due to potential security risks. Specific examples of the sites now banned included facebook, myspace, and twitter.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tweeted yesterday.

“Obviously we need to find right balance between security and transparency. We are working on that. But am I still going to tweet? You bet.”

The comment also appeared on Admiral Mullen’s facebook page.

While it’s tempting to poke fun at the apparent contradictions involved, it’s easy to see a difference. Its well known that there are many vulnerabilities on the Web that can result in compromising a computer and that they are more likely to be encountered in open, popular environments, like social media systems. So it’s prudent to limit access to some of these from networks like NIPRNET that are used for sensitive information. On the other hand, we assume that the computer used by Admiral Mullen and his staff for public announcements and PR are on conventional networks, so the risks asscociated with security problems are greatly reduced.

Still, you have to admit that it’s ironic.

DOS attacks on Twitter et al. focused on Georgian blogger Cyxymu

August 6th, 2009

Elinor Mills of cnet reports that the DOS against twitter, facebook, livejournal and blogger were focused on a single Russian blogger using the name Cyxymu (??????).

A pro-Georgian blogger with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal and Google’s Blogger and YouTube was targeted in a denial of service attack that led to the site-wide outage at Twitter and problems at the other sites on Thursday, according to a Facebook executive.

The blogger, who uses the account name “Cyxymu,” (the name of a town in the former Soviet Republic) had accounts on all of the different sites that were attacked at the same time, Max Kelly, chief security officer at Facebook, told CNET News.

“It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard,” Kelly said. “We’re actively investigating the source of the attacks and we hope to be able to find out the individuals involved in the back end and to take action against them if we can.”

According to the Register, Researcher: Twitter attack targeted anti-Russian blogger, the DOS attack was driven by spam rather than a botnet. Spam messages enticed their recipients to click on a link to one of Cyxymu’s many social media accounts.

You can try to access Cyxymu’s pages on twitter, livejournal, facebook, blogger and youtube.

Apparent DDOS attacks on twitter, facebook and livejournal

August 6th, 2009

It will be interesting to see what comes from today’s DDOS attacks on twitter, facebook and liveJournal. It is certainly a show of strength from whoever controls the botnets that launched the attacks. We can only assume that three three are from the same source or at lease related sources. Some sources:

Was it a test? Demonstration? Preparation for extortion (Nice little Internet you got there. Shame if something happened to it.)?

Update 16:45: Here’s a graph from Arbor Networks (via NYT) showing a dramatic drop in traffic this morning.


Top technology brands

August 6th, 2009

What’s in a brand? That which we call an iphone by any other name would be as cool, right?

That was then, this is now. Even Wikipedia with it’s NPOV seems to agree: “Brands have become increasingly important components of culture and the economy, now being described as ‘cultural accessories and personal philosophies’.”

Techcrunch posts about an annual ranking of brands.

“WPP subsidiary Millward Brown Optimor has released its highly regarded annual brand ranking BrandZ Top 100 (PDF), which identifies the world’s most valuable global brands as measured by their dollar value.”

As you might expect, the list includes a large number of technology companies.

“Topping the list are Internet giant Google, whose brand was valued at a whopping $100 billion, and rival Microsoft which comes in second with a $76.2 billion valuation. The report shows Google’s brand value is up from $86 billion last year (an increase of 16% in value), while Microsoft’s rose only 8% in value over the past year.

Other valuable top brands in technology, according to Millward Brown’s fresh ranking, include IBM ($66.6 B), Apple ($66.1 B), Vodafone ($53.7 B), Nokia ($35.1 B), Blackberry ($27.4 B), HP ($26.7 B), SAP ($23.6 B), Intel ($22.8 B) and Oracle ($21.4 B). Just outside the top 25, we find Amazon at the number 26 spot, but the company can pride itself in having the most ‘brand momentum’ – a measurement predicting short-term growth prospects – this year.

You can also download an BrandZ Top 100 iPhone App. Since I seem to have an off-brand smartphone, I can’t report on what it does. 🙁

The full 72 page BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands report has lots of interesting analysis and background information. Here’s a table of the top 20 technology companies from the report.

Top Technology Brands