CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
Keywords: Internet, Cybernetics, Artificial intelligence
Abstract A valuable new list on the UK Mailbase gives information on AI-related events in the London area. The retirement of the founder of the Mailbase is reported, with a review of some of its history and status. Reference is made to studies of computability in a new light, and to the provision of a Web site for the citizens of Shanghai as an alternative to cemetery space.
A very useful list offered on the UK Mailbase has the title London-AI and provides news of AI-related seminars and debates in the area within reasonable reach of London, which is interpreted fairly generously to include venues as far away as Reading and Oxford. The list owner is a lady called Sunny Bains and details of the list, and the means of applying to join it, can be found by following a link from her Web site at: http://www.sunnybains.com, or by going straight to http://www.mailbase.ac.uk/lists/london-ai/. Members receive e-mail postings of entries to the list.
As with other Mailbase lists, an archive of entries is available, but the information is much more conveniently viewed when sorted into chronological order of the events referred to. This is available at: http://www.mailbase.ac.uk/lists/london-ai/files/calendar.html. Another very useful facility offered is a collection of links to other program-generating facilities, with the same address as for the calendar but with "links" substituted for "calendar". There are links to an artificial intelligence and simulation of behaviour (AISB) site and to the UK Cybernetics Society and to the British Computer Society, among others. The BCS site is not primarily a source of online calendar information, but accepts information on relevant events to be listed in the Computer Bulletin and Computer Journal.
The list owner, Sunny Bains, is glad to have forthcoming events brought to her notice for inclusion. Notices can be sent, by members or non-members of the list, to email@example.com.
The link to the London-AI list is just one feature of the Sunny Bains Web site. She is in the unusual position of being an established scientific journalist as well as a research student with the Open University. Full details, and text of numerous publications, can be found on the Web site. She contributes to an impressive list of prestigious journals, focusing on optics and optoelectronics and on very fundamental aspects of computing.
The project in the Open University refers to these fundamental aspects and to a contention that appropriate analog systems can escape the limitations of Turing machines. A book which is quoted as supporting this possibility is Siegelmann (1998). The topic is treated by Cosnard (1998) who quotes an earlier paper by Siegelmann and Sontag and confirms that there are reasons for supposing that analog nets can achieve a more favourable relationship of computing time to problem size than would be expected according to standard complexity theory, and can compute functions that are apparently incomputable by digital machines. Bains also refers to Penrose, who has argued that functions of the brain cannot be imitated by computers, but this is now extended to make a distinction between digital computers and some artificial neural nets.
In a paper given by Sunny Bains in September 2000 at the Annual Conference of the UK Cybernetics Society the possibility of exceeding Turing limits was defended and attention drawn to the computational possibilities of non-digital physical systems. Powerful examples can be seen in optical systems, where for example the computing of a spatial Fourier transform is trivial. A discussion in terms of simple mechanical systems, including a rubber-band computer to derive convex hulls, appears in Fischler and Firschein (1987). Interesting developments can be expected in the reports that will appear in the Web site.
Goodbye to Jill Foster
The Mailbase homepage, at: http://www.mailbase.ac.uk has a news item, dated 28 January 2000, marking the retirement of the lady who founded the Mailbase ten years ago and had directed it ever since. It is mentioned that she had been planning her retirement since the previous summer, and intends (among other things) to travel to Australia, to cycle the length of the Danube, and to play a lot of tennis.
It is mentioned that the Mailbase has been used by about 50 per cent of UK higher education staff. It began with a proposal made by Jill Foster in 1989, in which she had the vision to insist on accessibility for academics of all disciplines and not only those having technical orientation. The facility was launched in 1990 as the National Information Services Project (NISP). The first lists were for library groups, and the three that were first established are still active.
At the time of writing of the news item, Mailbase had 2,636 discussion lists and 192,745 members worldwide. A list that has frequently been referred to in these Commentaries is cyberspace and society, and the wide range of topics is emphasised by the reference in the news item to lists for Liturgy and Medieval and Renaissance Music. Although there are now very many sites offering a somewhat similar "listserve" function, the Mailbase was the pioneer and still fills many needs. Jill Foster certainly deserves congratulations and best wishes for a happy retirement.
A new use for the Internet was reported in the Moscow Times for 5 April 2000, quoting from Shanghai Daily News. The report can also be seen on the Web site: http://dailynews.muzi.com/cgi/lateline/news.cgi?p=64573&l=english&.
It is reported that the Shanghai city authorities have become concerned about dwindling space in the city's cemeteries, and are planning a Web site where people can mourn their departed loved ones. Their announcement was timed to correspond with an annual festival in which Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors.
The remains of 100,000 people are buried in the city each year, and already, in this and other Chinese cities, cremation is insisted on and only very small plots or places in mausoleums can be allowed. There is the hope that the availability of the Web site will encourage alternative forms of burial such as scattering the ashes at sea.
Alex M. Andrew
ReferencesCosnard, M. (1998), "Parallel computational models" in Arbib, M.A. (Ed.), The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 702-5.Fischler, M.A. and Firschein, O. (1987), Intelligence: The Eye, the Brain, and the Computer, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, pp. 52-3.Siegelmann, H. (1998), Neural Networks and Analog Computation: Beyond the Turing Limit, (Progress in Theoretical Computer Science series), Birkh user Verlag, Switzerland.