Workshop on Bounded Rationality

I am co-organising, with Alan Bundy and Rahul Santhanam, a workshop on Bounded Rationality: Computational and Behavioural Aspects, to be held on 4th and 5th April in the School of Informatics.

More details here: http://wcms.inf.ed.ac.uk/ipab/autonomy/bounded-rationality

This meeting is explicitly intended to bring together researchers from multiple disciplines. We have talks from people in computer science, economics, psychology and geosciences. Come join us!

Ockham’s razor in different fields

Someone participating in an ongoing exchange within a public newsgroup made the following observation which I believe is very pertinent to areas I work in as well:

Ockham’s razor was a terrible heuristic for planetary science for about 1500 years, not with respect to replicating the position of the planets in the night sky (big data ‘prediction’ problem as it would currently be called now) but instead as a model to actually understand planetary motion, which became the foundation for mechanics and modern physics.

It would perhaps be considered unfashionable to knock Ockham in today’s age of data-driven science, but I think that reaction only arises from an underestimation of how valuable a good theory is. Throughout graduate school I was just in awe of concepts like the variational formulation of mechanics which were not only the very foundations of physics but also slowly crept under to provide the foundation for the most efficient methods for data-driven inference in graphical models and so on! It would be a real shame if researchers interested in intelligence, be it AI or neuroscience, gave up on the search for these principles…

Hype Cycles 2013

I came across this in my twitter feed today, and find it really interesting. Gartner, Inc., a leading research and advisory company, routinely put together a report evaluating the relative readiness and ‘hype level’ of various technologies. The 2013 report includes the following nice visualisation.

hype-cycle-pr.png;pv4a3db6f9c029a4db

As is perhaps the case for most academic researchers, many of the things I am working on fall in the innovation trigger category, inching into the peak of inflated expectations. It is worth keeping in mind the cautionary note that this only means we are a few years from the ‘trough of disillusionment’ – so, unless we have things to show by then, the reception could be rather cold!

How do cancer cells behave in space?

This was the topic of my recent post in the Research the Headlines blog.

The core question is an intriguing one: does a trip to space hold the secret to curing cancer? The point of commentary articles in this blog, in case you have not seen the blog before, is to discuss the underlying scientific concept in relatively non-technical terms but also to briefly consider how this topic has been treated by the media articles covering it.

On disciplinary boundaries

A poet once said, “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood… How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts– physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on– remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!

-Richard Feynman, from Six Easy Pieces