A Few Good Links – Feb 17th 2010

on February 17, 2010
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This week, we’ll take a little bit more focus on Artificial Intelligence, cognitive sciences, and related subjects.

1. Artificial Intelligence in Games

It has long been well established that many of the programming tasks required to implement a good computer game involve deep AI techniques. Indeed, a number of the advances in AI were in fact pulled by the needs of the game industry.

Kevin Kelly has a good review of the Art of Game Design, by Jesse Schell (http://bit.ly/cV2Gxm),  a book that focuses on what it takes to design games involving complex interactions. Game design is complex – the book illustrates solid techniques to address the key challenges.

This book is a good complement to a more technical book – Artificial Intelligence for Games, by Ian Millington (http://bit.ly/aLkMIj). I have not read the 2nd edition, but the first edition presented in a fairly deep level of detail the characteristics of the AI techniques used to solve the multiple issues involved in of implementing interesting, challenging, engaging computer games.

Intel had published a 4 part essay on designing AI for games: Part I (http://bit.ly/cExNS5), Part II (http://bit.ly/d8R2gJ), Part III (http://bit.ly/alupoX) and Part IV (http://bit.ly/di3uTI). This is a good introduction for the details you will find (together with much more) in the previous book.

2. Innovative visualization

If you’ve been following the previous installments in this series, you know that I consider that good data visualization is a key part of decision management. Humans, assisted by powerful visualizations, have the ability to detect patterns that can then be investigated through further techniques. Furthermore, powerful visualizations allow the communication of knowledge in an extremely efficient way, as more than one folks saying states.

Recovery.org uses a number of standard yet effective visualization techniques to make the public data relative to the Recovery Act accessible (in terms of interpretation and understanding) to the public at large. I consider this to be a very positive effort, and hope that more of the public data is made available in this form, as well as in the form of APIs through standard mechanisms to favor imaginative mashups.

In another register, Cartogrammar tries to answer the question “what color is Harvard?” (http://bit.ly/cEWe3J) using a mashup with geo-coded pictures from which the key color components are extracted.
This exercise may appear futile on the surface, but approaches such as this can help humans elicit enormous amounts of information out of otherwise difficult to read and/or compile data.
Years ago, when I was still living in Chile, probably around 5th grade, I was asked to submit a project in which we had to compile one piece of data a day, always of the same type, for a complete year and present some sort of conclusion about it. Many of my peers went into planting flowers and observing growth, or clipping headlines and counting types of 1st page events, etc… I proposed something totally different: every day, pick a color (out of a set of crayons I had in my room) that best symbolized what happened during the day, and color a calendar structured as a grid that way. My idea was that this would maybe allow to identify patterns – very much like what Cartogrammar is doing  – and maybe even be useful for the next day. The teachers did not like it – they did not like the fact that the choice of the color was not scientifically driven by a formula or something tangible. But I did it anyway for the whole year. Unfortunately, I lost that and many other things when we had to leave everything behind in a hurry in ’74.
But the fascination with the clever usage of visualization to convey complex information and enable its exploration for analysis purpose has always remained with me.

3. Arts as a means to increase cognitive functions

For a long time, I have observed that some of the most brilliant people I have studied with, or worked with, are also involved with an art in one way or another, frequently as an advanced amateur. In my academic training, the subject of the deeply mathematical structure of music, painting, sculpture, came frequently.

This study by the Dana foundation focuses on whether and how the mental and physical mechanisms deployed by artists end up having an impact on on-the-surface unrelated cognitive activities. Another good reason to create opportunities for the artistic expression of kids.

4. The importance of good design

Carole-Ann published an assessment of what constitutes the #1 issue for the proper implementation of BRMS projects (http://bit.ly/atlYgW), based on her experience with implementations. One key aspect is the lack of attention paid to the design of the interactions for the business analyst – the key stakeholder in managing the decisions implemented through the business rules.

This article focuses on how the design of Electronic Medical Records has missed its goals (http://bit.ly/8YWIVI) and introduced numerous challenges and risks for the stakeholders involved in their usage. There has always been a tension between ease of use and functionality (yes, the point is that there should not be), and each new generation of hardware and or software platform introduces hopes of reducing that tension. In the Healthcare industries, many are putting their hopes on the disruptive power of the Apple iPad (I provided a similar link a couple of installments away).

Finally, the quote of the week, selected by Carole-Ann:

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
— Pablo Picasso


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