Edward Willett

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Google Translate AI reminds me of GigaText, a blast from Saskatchewan’s past

This story, "Google Translate AI invents its own language to translate with" caught my eye for an odd reason. Long-time Saskatchewan residents will recognize the word "GigaText." As I've noted elsewhere, I'm working on a book about the Progressive Conservative government of Grant Devine, which held power in Saskatchewan from 1982 to 1991. One of the boondoggles that government mistakenly invested in was a company called GigaText, which claimed it could use computers to translate Saskatchewan laws into French. The government had to comply with a ruling by the Supreme Court that Section 221 of the Northwest Territories Act contained French-language guarantees that were still valid in Saskatchewan, and thus had to be either respected or repealed. As a result, The ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 0:15, December 3rd, 2016 under Blog | Comment now »

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/01/Communicating-Cars.mp3[/podcast] Do you talk to your car? I know I do (perhaps not as much as I, um, “talk” to other drivers, but some). I think I inherited the trait from my mother: all of the cars of my childhood, I knew from her, were named “Suzy.” These days, your car may even listen to you, if you have a voice-activated music system or phone. But generally, cars don’t pay much attention to what you say to them. It could be that you just don’t have anything to say they’re very interested in. Perhaps what cars would really enjoy is conversation with others of their kind...and it may not be too long ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:06, January 27th, 2012 under automobiles, cars, Columns, Ford, Science Columns | Comment now »

An epic tale of self-control

You may have seen this news item recently about how a toddler's self-control at the age of three can predict his or her health and wealth once grown. This study has been running through my mind for a week because I have, I think, demonstrated a tremendous amount of self-control over the past few days, and although I am not three years old (not physically, anyway; emotionally...well, you'll have to ask my wife), I'm still hoping that it might be a harbinger of great health and wealth to come. To understand just how much self-control I have exerted, you first ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:01, February 1st, 2011 under Blog | Comment now »

The benefits of chatspeak

When it comes to the brave new world of interpersonal communications via electronic networks, I believe I do quite well for a man who is...how can I put this delicately...no longer teenaged. Or twenty-something. Or thirty-something. Or, as of this summer, even forty-something. Despite my advancing years, however, I am still a with-it and happening dude. Not only do I, as you can see, have a firm grasp on the very latest hip-hop jive talk the young folks use, but I do all of the following, dear reader: Tweet, blog, podcast, Facebook, LiveJournal, and Flickr. (I used to MySpace, but I gave it up.) I do not, however, chat, IM, or text. It will come as no shock to anyone who has spent any ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 21:09, September 23rd, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The first sentence I wrote today…

...was, once again, for Blue Fire : In the stunned silence that followed, Amlinn stood stock-still for a long moment, then suddenly ran after her grandfather. Words today: 1,514 Total thus far: 38,313 That was first thing this morning; in the afternoon, I did good work on Magebane, but it was, once again, of the rethinking variety. I went back into the outline and figured out some more things that have been causing me fits. Now I really think the plot is sound, instead of scatterbrained, which is how I've felt it be as I've tried to write. That's the good thing. Bad thing: I think I'm going to have to go back to ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 18:14, July 23rd, 2009 under Blog | Comment now »

The first sentence I wrote today…

...was for Blue Fire: Amlinn gestured at her grandfather and the departing messenger. "They're not coming." Words today: 1,697 Total thus far: 36,799 Made some good progress today, and what was particularly exciting about it had little to do with what I wrote, which was mostly of the people talking variety (though there's a big action scene coming up next), but rather with what I used to write it: my new netbook computer, a Samsung NC10. I bought it with birthday money, and so far I'm very happy with it. Quite a decent keyboard--93 percent full-sized, which means I can still type on it comfortably, and it has nice full-keyboard-like raised keys with the tactile ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 23:36, July 22nd, 2009 under Blog | 2 Comments »

The first (OK, actually the first TWO) sentence(s) I wrote today…

"He will be able to answer questions," the Healer said. "Whether he will answer them is beyond my control." Words today: 1,440 Total thus far: 16,272 A bit of an annoyance today: I've been writing with my Freedom Universal Keyboard 2 (a fold-up Bluetooth keyboard) on my new Blackberry Storm. All well and good, but today, for some reason, it asked me for a password for the keyboard. Darned if I could remember what it was, and since I was already sitting somewhere that wasn't home, I didn't have ready access to support material. I struggled for an hour or so and never managed to make it connect. Once I got home, I soon figured out what I was supposed to type in (0000--nothing ...

Posted by Lee Arthur Chane at 21:09, June 17th, 2009 under Blog | Comment now »

Reverse-engineering the brain

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/05/blue-brain.mp3[/podcast] Ah, the human brain. Seat of consciousness, miracle of creation or evolution (discuss amongst yourselves), able to jump to tall conclusions in a single bound, so incredibly complex that we’ll never be able to understand how it works. Um, not so fast. A year and a half ago, scientists at the Blue Brain Project in Switzerland announced they had successfully created an extremely detailed—down to the molecular level—model of the neurocortical column of a two-week-old rat...and that was just Phase 1 of their ambitious research effort aimed at nothing less than reverse-engineering the mammalian brain and recreating it in a computer. The neurocortical column (NCC) is the basic unit of the neocortex, which in mammals is responsible for higher brain functions ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:13, May 5th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The artificial scientist

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/the-artificial-scientist.mp3[/podcast] As I’ve noted before, the very first science column I wrote, ca. 1991, was entitled, “What is a scientist?” Last year I re-ran that column with minor editing: the answer to the question hadn’t changed in 17 years. But it may have changed now. That’s because researchers at Cornell University have created a computer program that can derive fundamental physical laws from raw observational data. In other words, they’ve created an artificial scientist. By observing the behavior of a single pendulum, a double pendulum, and a spring-loaded linear oscillator (things you might use in a high school physics classroom), their software figured out some basic laws of physics, previously discovered by Isaac Newton and successors. Big difference: it took human scientists centuries. The computer ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 17:36, April 7th, 2009 under Science Columns | Comment now »

Talking cars: Knight Rider lives!

Remember those 1980s cars that used to tell you "Your door is ajar"?Even aside from sounding like someone who only knows the punchline but not the setup of an old joke ("When is a door not a door?") those voices annoyed almost everyone. Which is why, for many years, most cars didn't talk.But increasingly, they're talking now. And we're talking more to them. There are voice-activated music systems, hands-free telephones, and even GPS navigation systems you can ask questions. As computers take over more and more systems in cars, they're going to need to communicate even more information...and humans' preferred method of communication is talking.That's where communication and sociology researcher Clifford Nass of ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 4:12, May 20th, 2008 under Blog, Science Columns | Comment now »