Monday, March 31, 2008

Dawkins Rap

Dick to the Doc to the Ph.D.
He's smarter than you; he's got a science degree...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bainbridge on World of Warcraft

William Sims Bainbridge was the speaker at the March 26, 2008 meeting of the Technology and Ethics working group at Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. Bill is the co-director of the Human-Centered Computing Cluster in the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems at the National Science Foundation. Bill spoke to the Yale Tech-Ethics group about the extensive research that he has been doing recently for a new book project on World of Warcraft tentatively titled Warcraft Culture: Anthropology of a Virtual World. An ISgroup blog entry of August 1, 2007 described the Science magazine cover story by Bill called "The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds." His most recent book is Across the Secular Abyss: From Faith to Wisdom. He has also written extensively on nanotechnology and the convergence of related sciences.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Talking Brains

Talking Brains is a blog that provides "news and views on the neural organization of language." It is moderated by Greg Hickok and David Poeppel. David is a Professor in the Departments of Linguistics and Biology at the University of Maryland. He is a neuroscientist and cognitive scientist who works on understanding the neural basis of speech perception and many other related areas. Greg is a Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. His research interests include the neuroanatomy of language, neural plasticity, and cognitive neuroscience.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I received a note this morning from my friend and fellow Brandeisian, Elliot S! Maggin. He has decided to put his latest novel online. Elliot is a writer of comics, film, and television, and is best known for being the principal writer of Superman from 1971 to 1986. About the new book, Elliot says, "It's a fantasy story called Lancer and it's been kicking around in my head for a very long time. I thought to write it as a short parable, a graphic novel, a novella, a full-length novel, as a screenplay, and for one reason or other I've never gotten it out the door. I'm putting the first two chapters out there free and clear, the first one today and the second (plans are) two weeks from Sunday. After that, I'll post the remaining twenty or so chapters in two-week intervals for about a buck a download. You'll still be on your honor, but my friends and colleagues are a notably honorable bunch." If you are interested, visit Elliot's website at and click on the icon on the left of Elliot's webpage (the same picture as the one shown here). I highly recommend anything written by Elliot -- you won't be disappointed!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Possible Next IS Reading

Continuing in our biological direction, with a nod toward our ancient neural nets theme, I would like to suggest Spikes: Exploring the Neural Code, by Fred Rieke et al.

Appendix A.3, on "Wiener Kernels", looks especially promising.

Too Good for IS

At a colleague's recommendation, I just watched Protagonist, a powerful and moving new documentary by Jessica Yu. As in her beautiful Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, Yu mixes interview footage with other media: in this case, stirring re-creations of Euripidean tragedies using puppets and masks. Fans of Mark Salzman may remember his extraordinary Wu Shu performances at Yale in the late 1980's; this film ends with him describing his life up to the point at which he moved to China to study martial arts full-time.

From the Netflix page for the film: Four disparate lives intertwine with surprising results in this absorbing documentary, an official selection of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. A German terrorist, a bank robber, an "ex-gay" evangelist and a martial arts student form the unlikely quartet. In her interweaving narrative, Oscar-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu explores parallels between human life and the formal dramatic structure of the Greek tragedian Euripides.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Patrick Nye (1936 - 2008)

We are sad to report that Patrick (Pat) Nye died in Bremerton, Washington on March 7, 2008. Pat stepped down from the Haskins Laboratories Board of Directors in December 2007. He served the Laboratories in a number of different capacities: Research Scientist 1971-1975, Associate Director of Research 1975-1992, Vice President for Administration 1992-1997, Member of the Board of Directors 1996-2007, and Chairman of the Board from 2002 to 2006. A blog ( has been created by his family since Pat's friends and relatives live far and wide and most likely won't get the chance to get together to share their thoughts on Pat and his life. They hope that this will provide a way to do that. It is hard to imagine the Laboratories without Pat. He will be missed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pandora's Baby

Robin Marantz Henig was the speaker at the March 5, 2008 meeting of the Technology and Ethics working group at Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. Robin is an author and freelance science writer. She read from and discussed her most recent book: Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution. Robin's writing can also be found in various magazines, including the New York Times Magazine. Examples include Darwin's God, March 4, 2007, about evolutionary theories of religious beliefs, Taking Play Seriously, February 17, 2008, about aspects of play, and The Real Transformers, July 29, 2007, about sociable robots. Keep an eye out for her work and buy her books!

Norman Doidge and neuroplasticity

Norman Doidge, M.D., was a recent guest at Yale University's Mind, Brain, Culture and Consciouness working group at the Whitney Humanities Center. Norman is a psychiatrist, writer, and poet who is presently on the research faculty at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalystic Training and Research and the University of Toronto's Department of Psychiatry. He discussed his latest book, The Brain That Changes Itself: stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. The book provides a history of research related to neuroplasticity and discusses a number of controversial individuals and issues. Norman indicated that a documentary related to the book is currently being filmed in Canada. We will keep you posted regarding its release.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Blogging from AGI-2008 in Memphis

I'm writing this from the First Conference on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI 2008) in Memphis, TN.  The conference is a refreshing mix of (1) reviews of the over-promised AI failures of the past; (2) criticism of AI's current narrow focus (game-playing programs, limited natural language processing, search engines); (3) presentations of new projects attempting to achieve general-purpose intelligence; and (4) a nod toward transhumanist / singularitarian speculation.

Highlights so far include a splendid overview of the AGI problem by Ben Goertzel, a clever critique by Joscha Bach of fMRI methods in neuroscience (he showed an infrared image of an internal-combustion engine next to a labeled schematic of the engine -- get it?), and a chilling presentation by Ron Arkin on the increasingly autonomous weaponized robots already being deployed by the U.S. military.  Apropos a familiar IS theme, there was even a perceptive comment by an audience member on the value of a dissipative systems approach to studying the emergence of life and intelligence.

The conference, which is being held in the FedEx Institute of Technology, has also reminded me of how much academic research has come to rely on corporate sponsorship.  The conference auditorium is called The Zone, and is sponsored by AutoZone.  The AutoZone logo is replicated on every seating tier, and the signs outside the entrances read (I kid you not) "The Zone / AutoZone / The Zone, by AutoZone... funding provided by AutoZone".