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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ether Dancing

Today I heard the best response yet to Dr Veloso's charge that softbots aren't real agents: "Well, look at all these robots, don't they belong in an autoshow?"


I saw several good talks today, however one that I enjoyed slightly more was Deepak Ramachandran's presentation of "Compact Propositional Encodings of First-Order Theories." If pushed, I'd admit that I have more than a fondness for logics, and what I suppose could be classified as traditional knowledge representation. I might also confess a praticular fondness at the moment for applications of first order logic. That's as opposed to, say, description logics, which are useful, powerful, and neat, but just don't tug at my heart in the same way. Given those biases, it was clear that I would be interested in the talk, as I think many people were. The room was full when I got there, grew more full as it went on, then emptied out just slightly after it ended.

Despite that though, what I really liked is the shifting of problems, of morphing between forms and representations until you find one that suits you a little more. In this case, propositional logic and the plethora of highly tuned solvers that may then be brought to bear. This is one of the things that really draws me to computer science, the ability to move back and forth between languages and problems like dancing on water. Reductions, translations, they make me feel as an antenna must when you switch channels---lights and colors flying by as the whole world changes but stays oddly familiar, the undercurrent of signal and abstraction still there.

Surely one of the things that begins to distinguish a computer scientist is when they realize that the programming language is utterly expendible & replaceable, the concepts alone mattering. As Marvin Minsky noted in his keynote speech (in different words), computer science is not a great pushing around of bits, but rather the first (and only) formal, abstract account of process. That in turn gives us the consequent freedom to appear however we wish, realizations of the ether, and that's beautiful.


Switching gears completely, I encourage everyone to attend the search session in the morning. Although there are several good talks and papers going on in other tracks during that slot, it should be a good session. Of course I have to support Vince Cicirello, presenting this year's best paper, as he's a post-doc in my lab and a completely nice guy in addition to being very bright. If you get a chance, ask him about bowling. He's quite good, and quite passionate about the sport. Just don't do it unless you're free for a couple hours. In addition, the session also has a paper by Richard Korf and another by Rong Zhou, who has picked up several best paper awards over the past couple years if I'm not mistaken.

8 Comments:

Blogger Deepak said...

hi Joseph,
thanks !! you made my day. drop by the robot check-in desk beside the crawford boardroom today and I'll buy you lunch :-)

~deepak

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