A "good enough" mom muses about alpha moms, adoption, computers, the State Of The World, Internet quirkiness, and the Kosmik All
A dream deferred

Back when OmegaMom was larking around in college for the last time, working like a dawg to finish off her computer science degree, the clarion call that lured her onward was artificial intelligence.

Neural networks.  Complex systems.  Evolutionary algorithms.  Mark Tilden, the inventor of BEAM robotics, robots built from the simplest of circuits that navigate the natural world via simple one or two-step rules--Tilden had a swarm of bug insects in his home that would skitter around, find "food" (electricity), climb over things, all autonomously. 

When I sent in my application for the Science and Engineering Research Semester, I specifically said that artificial intelligence was where I wanted to work...and I got a job with a guy who was playing with neural networks.  I got to go to the Santa Fe Institute for a few seminars.  I actually met Mark Tilden and his cohorts.

Sigh.

At the same time, I met OmegaDad.  A torrent of emotions swept pure intellectual curiosity into the mental dustbin.  A plan to wangle the appointment to SERS into a full-time job at Los Alamos and then go to Stanford or MIT for a graduate degree went *poof*, and my life changed in a drastic fashion.  Just like those old clich├ęs, you find love when you're least looking for it--I had my life planned out, as did soon-to-be-Mr.-OmegaMom (he was planning to use his soil science in mine remediation and restoration), and falling in love just wasn't in those plans.  At all. 

I also was overcome, at various times, by ideas for science fiction novels and stories.  One of these was a splendid creation wherein a team of artificial intelligence researchers would build a robot jam-packed with neural networks, a few simple rules (a la Tilden's approach), attach it to input sensors (cameras, microphones, pressure sensors) and output devices, turn it on, and hand it over to a woman to "bring up baby".  The idea being--stuff it full of input, talk to it the way you talk to a baby, help it "learn" to propel itself, "learn" to distinguish various objects at a distance and recognize them, "learn" to talk, "learn" emotions, yadda, yadda, yadda.

(There was a plot of some sort attached to this idea--I think it revolved around people not part of the research team discovering about the baby 'bot and going ballistic, fears of robot hordes being parlayed into paranoia, and the lady scientist having to go into hiding with her "child" to escape the burners...at this point, however, I don't remember the plot as well as the driving idea.)

Actually, not only was it an idea for an SF novel, but my daydreams included getting a team together to actually do it.

This was long ago and far away.  Rather than being a researcher in AI, living in northern New Mexico, I am a quiet systems analyst at Small Mountain University, dealing with accounting systems rather than with artificial intelligence, wife to OmegaDad, and mom to OmegaDotter rather than a baby research robot.  Quite a different result!

What brings this all up?  This story, about a group of researchers who are doing...just what I describe up above.  They are using neural networks and simple robotics rules to teach robots to recognize human emotions and use those emotions to modify how they behave around humans.

Way cool.

There are times--few and far between; I'm too busy just living life--when those old daydreams rise to the forefront and make me sigh wistfully.  This is one of those times.  I would so want to be part of that research team.  So very, very much.

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posted by Kate @ 2/24/2007 09:24:00 AM  
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About Me
Name: OmegaMom
Home: Southwest
About Me: Middle-aged mom of a 4-year-old adopted from China. Love science, debate, good SF and fantasy, hiking, music of almost every style. Lousy housekeeper. "Good enough" mom.
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