Video talks on Neuromorphic Engineering

I’m in the process of trying to write a book with Ralph Etienne-Cummings of Johns Hopkins University on neuromorphic engineering. Just at the point where I was supposed to be travelling to lots of conferences for research, Covid-19 happened. Papers are great, but getting the context for work directly from scientists and engineers is always a good way of getting started, so I looked for material to watch online (to create my own virtual conference).

With special thanks to Gert Cauwenberghs, Roxana Alexandru, and Elisabetta Chicca for their suggestions, and to my arms for a couple of days of typing, I’m now able to share with everyone the list of videos I compiled.  Read More …

The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable, by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

This book was recommended by a colleague who is both a biologist and a neuromorphic engineer, and I was hoping to get from it some insights on how to build a brain. If I hadn’t come to it with this expectation, I think I would have enjoyed it more… because that’s not what it is. It’s the story of how a science writer switched back to being a scientist and and was able to bring a fresh eye to an old subject. Her new perspective, plus years of work and dedication, have led us to a much better understanding of who we are and why.

This book is not about how our brain works, it’s about how our brain has evolved, and should be of interest to any scientifically-literate reader. Read More …

Humility, incompetence, education, and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Donald Trump: a great example of how ignorance can warp your perspective of your competence compared to others. Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Donald Trump: a great example of how ignorance can warp your perspective of your competence compared to others. Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Dunning-Kruger effect has had a lot of press recently because of Donald Trump. Almost two decades ago, in their very readable paper, Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,  Cornell psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning showed that incompetent people lack the ability to gauge their own incompetence if they have even a tiny amount of knowledge in a particular area. (If I need to explain the connection to Trump at this point, we probably shouldn’t get into a political discussion…) For example, explain Dunning and Kruger, “most people have no trouble identifying their inability to translate Slovenian proverbs, reconstruct an 8-cylinder engine, or diagnose acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.” However, if they think they know anything at all about a domain, even the people with the least ability – after objective testing – think they are above average. Read More …

New paper: Being Analog

IMG_0957I attended the 3rd International Workshop on Optical SuperComputing in Bertinoro, Italy, back in November. I don’t get out so much these days, so I was pretty shocked when a total of 10 people showed up (or was it 11, you’d think I’d remember!) It’s a shame, because there is some interesting stuff going on in this field…

In any case, despite a couple talks delivered remotely, the program turned out to be pretty thin (perhaps not surprising given the attendance). So I offered to give a presentation about my stuff, even though it’s not strictly about optical. The talk, called Being Analog, was well received, so they asked me to write it up as a paper for Springer’s Lecture Notes on Computer Science (which had a deal to do the proceedings). Uploaded it today: so here it is, hot off the presses, if you’re interested.

Photo: The view out of my window from Bertinoro Castle.

Originally posted on Brains and Machines.

300Mb of soul

CapricaSo I finally got around to watching Caprica, the spin-off pilot from the mostly-wonderful Battlestar Galactica. As a scientist, I’m usually pretty happy to just let the science-fiction bits of such programs wash over me: to just suspend disbelief and treat them as fantasy. With Battlestarthis was particularly easy to do, as so little of the science was really explained. But with Caprica, the way they said you could create a virtual human personality was so plausible, well-explained, and—in my view—so completely wrong, that I thought it worth putting something on the record. Read More …

Augmentation or alienation?

Photo from 'Playing God' by Paula Garfield and Rebecca Atkinson.I’ve been trying to think about how the cultures of those with and without augmented senses may diverge, and the difficulties this may cause. The problem is already being grappled with by deaf people deciding whether to give their children cochlear implants, and the chance of a more “normal” life, or whether to encourage them to embrace signing and the deaf community. So, when I heard last week about a play on this subject here in London, Playing God by Paula Garfield and Rebecca Atkinson, I immediately bought tickets. Though it’s a departure, I thought I’d review it and some of the issues it raises here. Also, the play’s on until August 4th, so I wanted to discuss it right away while there is still an opportunity for people to go and see it if it’s of interest. Read More …