On turning 65

October 6, 2017

Well, here I am: 65 on the 3rd October, Tag der deutschen Einheit, for those in Germany, but no public holiday here in Scotland. And now what?

I’m planned to go down to 20% of full time at the end of this month (was to be 50%, but I reckoned, I’d end up working 100% for 50% of the salary. At least at 20% I can say “no” more easily. Plan is to work on various research projects (on the silicon cochlea, on the neuro-robotics project, on the contextual learning project, to name three), and to do a little  teaching too, but not to much, and , more importantly, to drop all the admin materials (like being in charge of impact, or of research within the Department). But it may not all be so easy.

We’ve lost 2.8 staff, out of a small group: 0.8 is me, 1.0 is one staff member who has gone to London, and 1.0 is another staff member who has been appointed to a promoted post in an ancient Scottish University. All quite normal, but unusual for us, in that they all happened so close together. So I suspect there may be pressure on me to do more teaching, marking etc …

But if required, I can resist!

Meanwhile, I’m aware I’m much less busy than last year or the year before at this time. Though still officially full time, it feels like rather less than that: I’m only working 35 hours a week, rather than the 50 odd I was usually working. And I can actually write some code again. So far, the man beneficiary seems to have been editors of journals, because I’ve agreed to review rather more than I usually do, but I’ll need to keep that within limits.

I’m trying also to take up other interests, after all, after 43 years in Computing, there might be other things to do. So I’ learning the clarinet, as well as playing piano with some friends who seem quite interested in getting a few gigs together… watch this space (and SoundCloud too!)


More thoughts on making perception primary

September 6, 2017

I wrote about the idea of making perception primary in July, and I eventually turned it into a paper for a smal meeting in Edinburgh, who rejected it. Nothing wrong with that,as it really didn’t say anything new. But now I think I can see an extension of this idea, perhaps helping to explain the views of those who think that the Universe is a simulation.

Now, I think this viewpoint is nonsensical, because the actual Universe would then have to include the simulator, and this itself might be a simulation, and so on indefinitely. So how can anyone really propose this?

Thinking of the first person experience as primary perhaps enables this viewpoint, because it then makes the rest of the Universe secondary. Like the earth-centered view of the universe, it makes the rest of the Universe secondary. That means that logical flaws in it can more easily be ignored, and ideas in this secondary Universe don’t need to be as clear. This strengthens the hand of those who have strange ideas such as simulation based Universes: such a view would have no effect on the first person experience.

There are flaws in this argument too, unfortunately. Truly simulation based universes would be undetectable if properly built however we looked for them, whether we make the first person world or the physical world primary. But that is the way with truly nonsensical ideas: they can’t be disproven because the logical flaws on which they are based enable country-arguments, rather like logical systems which include a contradiction being able to prove anything.

Maybe I should blame the post-structuralists who seem to suggest that all views can have equal validity. I truly don’t agree with this!

Lats night’s gig at The Crook

August 6, 2017

Last night, Angus Scott (Saxophones) and I (piano) played a gig at The Crook Bar, in Bridge of Allan. We played three 50 minute sets, in this very noisy, busy gastro-pub. It was a huge amount of fun – for us anyway – and I think the customers liked it too, though some groups were so noisy that I could hardly hear myself play. As I get towards retirement, I’m looking to play more music (whether jazz, blues, folk or whatever), and this seemed a good way to get going. I’ve been playing with Angus for a while now, mostly just practising (though we did play the Dunblane Hotel’s beer festival last year, and one or two other charity gigs), but now I think we’re ready to get out more! Listen to us on SoundCloud (just 2 tracks right now: been having problems with the USB interface on this old laptop).

We’re hoping to play at The Dunblane’s beer festival again this year. And looking for other gigs (nearby!) too… Contact me if you are interested: lestheprof at gmail dot com.


Making perception primary.

July 28, 2017

i’ve spent  long time wondering about the physical basis of perceptual entities. There’s lots of possible types of perceptual entity, visual, auditory, or the perception of time: indeed every possible form of mental activity. I’ve always been thinking about how the physical nature of the brain can perform physical activities theatre then interpreted as mental events. This is a hard problem: how do mental events supervene on physical events. No-one has the answer.

But now I’m wondering if this is the wrong question (and whether that’s why it’s quite so hard). We are very attached to out view of physical reality, whether that’s the physical nature of matter (quarks, electrons, atoms, molecules, or just pieces of stone and wood…), and energy (sound, music, light, and so on), so we look to physical reality to provide a basis for mental events. We know that physical reality is tricky: the physicists tell us that our everyday view of solid matter is not the only reality, that’s largely space. And we know that light is an electromagnetic radiation within a small say of wavelengths.

In fact all that we directly perceive is mental events. Everything else is provided to us as mental events, whether directly through our senses, or less directly through instrumentation that maps something invisible to something sensory, or less directly still through processing signals, or simply reading about it. So lets start at the other end, and make the mental events primary. So let’s start by assuming the reality of the mental events. Let’s not try to explain them away as accidental results of some physical process that’s dong something else.

It’s not that  don’t believe there is some physical correlate of mental events (I do: I can’t accept that the mental event has no physical correlate at all: to do so would be to accept the possibility of disembodied mental systems, which for this scientist seems a step too far right now). What I would suggest is that by making the mental events primal, we start to see just how far our “artificial intelligence” systems are from minds. Yes, we can map vectors to vectors, and learn about the deep structure of visual and auditory information; yes we can build systems that can perform certain types of mathematical reasoning, are create plans. But no, we can’t provide any sort of autonomous volition, not even the coalition that an amoeba has when swimming up a concentration gradient of some nutrient. We might be able to recognise the gradient (maybe – actually, that’s still quite hard), but we wouldn’t know that we wanted to swim up it.

I think we’re a whole lot further from the Singularity than is currently assumed. Yes we can build awfully clever automata, and make them perform some sparkling recognition  tricks, but little more than this.


Thoughts from the City of Derry

July 26, 2017

I’m in Derry, visiting the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster, to give a seminar (yesterday), and examine a PhD (today). Both done now, so I have a little time to be a tourist, and perhaps even to think. The picture id the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that crosses the River Foyle. It is, as you can see, a big river, with the old city (with it walls) on one side, and a rather newer area (which I haven’t yet seen) on the other. I gave a seminar entitled “40 years behind the keyboard, and what next”, and it seemed to go well, and I enjoyed the PhD Oral: a very good and able student. If this were Germany, the PhD would have been summa cum laude, but in the UK, we don’t grade them beyond pass and fail.

This afternoon, I walked from this hotel into the city, and wandered around the old town. While Derry is not quite on its uppers, it was sad to see what looked to have been an independent department store, Austin’s, closed.  Wandering around the walls, the views are excellent, but there’s still signs of the past, from the distant past (the siege of Derry, and the potato famine, when many migrants left from the docks in Derry, to more modern troubles). But the place has a guid conceit of itself, and a lively music scene too. I like it here: it’s very like Scotland in many ways (and not very far away either).

A little light jazz

July 20, 2017

As I get towards retirement from academia, I’m trying to get more music going on. I’ve now decided to go down to 20% come the end of October 2017, and that’s getting to be soon…

So I’ve taken a little of a recording session Angus Scott (Saxophone) and I (Electronic Piano) did (here, in the garage, single take, no editing!) and put it up on Soundcloud. Have a listen to Rosetta and How High the Moon. The picture on Soundcloud is from a visit to a jazz club in the Cascadas bar in Hamburg a few years ago.

And meanwhile, I’m learning the clarinet – maybe one day I’ll try performing on it as well, but it’s hard!

The new e-bicycle.

April 18, 2017

It’s only about 3 and a half miles from my house to my office, down the main (and rather busy) road. And it’s a bit further, and much hillier going over the Glen Road, a track that was a proper road till parts of it fell into the valley below leaving a track that’s now only for people and bicycles. I use this track now, and have been bicycling it once or twice  week for a few years. But I’d like to use it more often, yet I seem to need a day to recover between cycle runs.

So I finally took the plunge and bought an e-bike at the week-end: a Raleigh Motus Crossbar e-bicycle. I bought it from Easygo bikes in Linlithgow, who had a really big range of e-bikes.

So today I commuted to work on it. It’s got 5 different levels of pedal assist, from none to lots: so far I’ve only used the two lower levels of assist. And it’s like cycling with a following wind: it just takes he pain out of the hills. Back on it tomorrow!

Spring at last!

March 19, 2017

“If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring” (song, which I remember from  Harry Secombe singing it, a long time ago, written by Cyril Ornadel and Leslie Bricusse) seems fitting today. We have a small pond, and for most of this week – and particularly today – the frogs have been cavorting like mad. Now we have some frog spawn too, so we look forward to some tadpoles later in the spring. We dug the pond about 15 years ago, and now it seems very much part of the landscape.

Spring is a little early this year, though there’s a little snow forecast for next week, still. Last week, I planted a tree, a Morello Cherry, and it looks good. The sun is shining now, and it must be 10 degrees C, or even a little more. Better get out in it, and abandon this machine!IMG_1502

Towards retirement (1)

February 4, 2017

Last week, week 3 of the Spring semester here, I finally made up my mind to go to half-time in my post, as from October, when I turn 65. I found it hard to decide: to keep working till I drop (what else is there to do?), to retire entirely (and be an emeritus Prof, and do just those things I want to do), but finally I decided to compromise, and to work half-time. Of course, the  danger is that I’ll actually work full-time for half the salary. What I need to do is to negotiate what half-time actually means for me. My Head of Department reckons a half teaching load, but I’m more interested in continuing to co-chair  SICSA Artificial Intelligence theme, and to keep my work on Neuroinformatics (including the British Neuroscience Association’s first SIG) going as well. So I’d like to be more involved with these than with teaching,  and so do rather less than half a teaching load. In one of this week’s lectures, I was trying to think of an area of mainstream Computing I’d never taught, and I found it hard to find one! So perhaps it’s time to move on.

Interestingly, as part of teaching a slightly more advanced Java course than usual to the 2nd year, I decided to write  a piece of software in Java, rather than my usual MATLAB. This was an interesting adventure, because I hadn’t really written anything serious in Java before (though I had written a substantial program in Objective C). So now I have bits of a spike-based echo state machine , though not yet the readout part. It certainly was useful, both because it helped me teach the class (nothing quite like recent experience!), and because writing the software in an object-oriented language, rather than simply coding a few matrix operations in MATLAB showed me some of the subtleties of ESM’s.

Of course, impending (even if partial) retirement make me ask myself some difficult questions: am I past my best? should I simply stand down? I know I have a bit less energy – I’m quite tired if I have to give two lectures in  a row, like I did last Wednesday and will of again this Wednesday. But for  now, I’m not quite surplus to requirements yet! And perhaps I can gradually take up some of my other interests more, like playing piano, and perhaps even learning a new instrument.


106 days post-Brexit referendum

October 7, 2016

In a previous post, I talked about the hangover post Brexit. Now we’re starting to feel the pain. And we’re nowhere near actually doing any negotiations. The UK Pound is down about 20%, against the Euro and the Dollar, my friends from the EU who work here are worried (and that’s in Scotland, where the Scottish Government went as far as writing each and every one of them a letter telling them they were valued: goodness knows what it’s like in the deepest wilds of rural England where they voted strongly from Brexit: see the Punch cartoon from 1854 – nothing’s changed).

I cannot get over my anger with the Conservatives and the UKIP people, along with the crap peddled by the tabloid press that led the people down this road. Other have suggested that the voters are stupider that they used to be, but that seems unlikely. I’m reminded of the 1924 Zinoviev letter that may have altered the result of an election (and which was undoubtedly a forgery: published in the Daily Mail of the time). But I feel utterly powerless. What can I do about this idiocy? No-one here is admitting to being in favour of Brexit, though obviously, quite a lot were. Down in England, there’s presumably lots of people happy with the turn of events, as they have their country back, G** help them.

Wait till we actually start negotiations, and look at what happens to the UK Pound then: In the mean time, I’m off to invest in cowrie shells! Except that most of my savings are in the form of my pension, and I can’t go and invest it: it’s just been devalued for me.

I’d better stop here.