Category Archives: Vancouver

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) October 18, 2016 talk: At the intersection of Space and Genetics

Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique seems to have settled in at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W. Pender), which is hosting (for the third time in four months) an upcoming 2016 Café Scientifique talk. From the October 17, 2016 notice received via email,

We are pleased to announce that this month’s event will be a collaboration with the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG).  The café will be held tomorrow (Tuesday October 18th) at 7:30pm in the back room at Yagger’s Downtown, 433 W Pender.  Please note that this date is one week earlier than usual to coincide with the ASHG Annual Meeting.  Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Ting Wu, from the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. The title of her talk is:

At the intersection of Space and Genetics

Ting (C.-ting) Wu, Ph.D., is a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. She is also the Director of the Consortium for Space Genetics, the Director of the Personal Genetics Education ( Project, and a recipient of an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. Her laboratory investigates how chromosome organization influences genome function, inventing and applying technologies for imaging the genome as well as studying how a very puzzling set of sequences, called ultraconserved elements (UCEs), have managed to resist change for a stunning 300 million years. These studies have led her group to consider the potential of their findings for protecting astronauts from the extreme conditions of long-term travel in space. The Wu laboratory also houses the Personal Genetics Education Project, which works to raise public awareness and discourse regarding personal genetics, aiming to make that awareness equal across all communities, regardless of socioeconomic, ethnic, educational, and religious influences.

Have a lovely time!

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) August 30, 2016 talk: Titans of the Ice Age—Rise of the Megafauna

For the second time in a row, Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique is at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W. Pender), which is hosting the upcoming August 2016 Café Scientifique talk. From the August 24, 2016 notice received via email,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday August 30th, 7:30pm in the back room at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W Pender). Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Greg Bole, from the Department of Zoology at UBC. The title of his talk is:

Titans of the Ice Age—Rise of the Megafauna

The talk will introduce people to some of the biggest members of the Pleistocene megafauna and discuss their evolutionary radiation, including why they were so big, as well as their extinction and possible de-extinction!

This holds the distinction of being the most succinct description of a Café Scientifique talk that I’ve seen.

You can find out a tiny bit more about Greg Bole here and more about Yagger’s Downtown here.

Georgina Lohan, Bharti Kher, and Pablo Picasso: the beauty and the beastliness of art (in Vancouver)

Georgina Lohan

Vancouver (Canada) artist Georgina Lohan’s latest show was a departure of sorts. Better known for her tableware and jewelry, her art exhibit showcased ceramic sculptures ranging in height from 16 inches to over seven feet and incorporating concepts from biology, species evolution, mythology, philosophy, sociology, and archaeology to convey imagery associated with the primordial world.

Perhaps one of the most striking elements of Lohan’s work is its beauty. This is not a quality one often sees in contemporary art. If she were fish, Lohan could be seen as swimming against the tide.

Origins II 62" x 24" Porcelain, steel 2016

Origins II 62″ x 24″ Porcelain, steel 2016 Courtesy: Georgina Lohan

Within a context that encompasses beauty and the primordial ooze, she is representing many of the disturbing themes seen in contemporary art: fragmentation, loss, destruction, and, indirectly, war.

The artist deliberately exploits the structural fragility of her pieces (four of them had to be anchored to the walls of the gallery).  From Lohan’s own writings about the show,

The repetitive nature of loss and destruction when working with a fragile medium has consolidated my tactic of collage porcelain debris as well as a consideration of the fragment as signifier for a larger totality.

The heat of the kiln is equivalent to an acceleration of time. Gravity becomes a critical force at these high temperatures and strategies of support become more and more necessary the larger and heavier the pieces become. Glazes liquefy, boil and bubble before smoothing out, colour change, the work expands and shrinks, moving and changing it molecular structure, growing crystals and other phenomena. The results can unpredictable and there is a high level of risk, but there are also those alchemical moments when base metals have turned to gold.

Sadly, the show ended Aug. 11, 2016 but Lohan has plans for future shows. You can find out more at her website.

Bharti Kher

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is showcasing UK-born, New Delhi-based artist Bharti Kher in North America’s first 20 year retrospective of her work, titled ‘Matter’, from July 9, 2016 to Oct. 10, 2016.

I saw the show on a Tuesday (Aug. 16, 2016) which features entry by donation from 5 pm. Depending on how you feel about crowds, you may want to get there early for the lineup. (The Picasso show which is also happening is quite the attraction, more about Picasso: The Artist and His Muses later in this post.

There is a lot to this show so I’m concentrating on  elements of special interest to me: the goddess sculptures, the ‘fabric pieces’, and one of the bindi pieces.

The sculptures of the women incorporating animal pelts, fragile teacups, and/or antlers fascinated me. I was particularly intrigued by ‘And all the while the benevolent slept’ (2008).

Bharti Kher's And all the while the benevolent slept, 2008 Guillaume Ziccarelli

Bharti Kher’s And all the while the benevolent slept, 2008. Credit: Guillaume Ziccarelli

Here’s what Kher is doing with this goddess according to a June 28, 2016 VAG news release,

Through her use of a particular body type or character, Kher’s sculptures make reference to iconic figures from mythology and history. And all the while the benevolent slept (2008) references Chinnamasta, an Indian goddess Kali who, in traditional iconography, holds her own detached head in her hand, blood gushing from her neck, while she stands on top of a copulating couple. Through her self-sacrifice she awakens the awareness of spiritual energy while at the same time incarnating sexual energy

Kher’s ‘Chinnamasta’ stands on a tree stump and has branches growing out of her neck rather than pouring blood. For someone from a province where forestry is a major industry, this piece lends itself to a political/ecological reading, as well as, as a reading of the feminine which is so much a part of Kher’s work. The skull does not seem wholly human.

The artist does not explain the piece beyond noting its origins in traditional Indian iconography. Here’s more about Chinnamasta from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Chhinnamasta (Sanskrit: छिन्नमस्ता, Chinnamastā, “She whose head is severed”), often spelled Chinnamasta, and also called Chhinnamastika and Prachanda Chandika, is one of the Mahavidyas, ten Tantric goddesses and a ferocious aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother. Chhinnamasta can be easily identified by her unusual iconography. The nude self-decapitated goddess, usually standing or seated on a copulating couple, holds her own severed head in one hand, a scimitar in another. Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck and are drunk by her severed head and two attendants.

Chhinnamasta is a goddess of contradictions. She symbolises both aspects of Devi: a life-giver and a life-taker. She is considered both a symbol of sexual self-control and an embodiment of sexual energy, depending upon interpretation. She represents death, temporality, and destruction as well as life, immortality, and recreation. The goddess conveys spiritual self-realization and the awakening of the kundalini – spiritual energy. The legends of Chhinnamasta emphasise her self-sacrifice – sometimes coupled with a maternal element – sexual dominance, and self-destructive fury.

In reading more about Chinnamasta, the piece grows in intrigue.

Moving on to the ‘fabric pieces, there’s this from the June 28, 2016 VAG news release,

Bharti Kher’s furniture and sari sculptures speaks to socially constructed ideals of femininity and domesticity. Any utilitarian function has been rendered useless, and instead these pieces of furniture become proxies for a body. The sari-draped chairs in Absence (2011) introduces the possibility of domestic narratives filled with mothers, daughters, wives and lovers, whose bodiless garments preserve a former presence. In The day they met (2011), vibrant and richly patterned saris are decisively placed on a staircase, effectively embalming the ritual act of sari unwrapping.

Bharti Kerr, Absence, 2011, sari, resin, wooden chair. Private Collection Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Peerotin, Photo Guillaume Ziccarelli

Bharti Kher, Absence, 2011, sari, resin, wooden chair. Private Collection Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Peerotin, Photo Guillaume Ziccarelli

The saris appear on various pieces of furniture and sometimes appear as twisted, long rolls that could be said to resemble snakes. The fabrics are beautiful and they call to mind Lohan’s work and also ‘women’s work’.

Now for the bindis. For anyone not familiar with bindis, there’s this from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

A bindi (Hindi: बिंदी, from Sanskrit bindu, meaning “point, drop, dot or small particle”) is a red dot worn on the center of the forehead, commonly by Hindu and Jain women. The word Bindu dates back to the hymn of creation known as Nasadiya Sukta in Rig Veda.[1] Bindu is considered the point at which creation begins and may become unity. It is also described as “the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state”.[2][3] Bindi is a bright dot of red colour applied in the center of the forehead close to the eyebrow worn in Indian Subcontinent (particularly amongst Hindus in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka)[2] and Southeast Asia among Bali and Javanese Hindus. Bindi in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism is associated with Ajna Chakra and Bindu[4] is known as the third eye chakra. Bindu is the point or dot around which the mandala is created, representing the universe.[3][5] Bindi has historical and cultural presence in the region of Greater India.[6][7]

The first piece you see in the Matter show is Virus VII (2016). It is comprised of bindis, blues ones rather than the traditional red, painstakingly overlapped in a spiral that extends several feet in height and width and affixed to the wall. The piece is accompanied by a wooden box with a plaque and containing sheets of blue bindis,

Matter exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery, July 9 - Oct. 10, 2016 Bharti Kher, Virus VII, 2016, Photo: Megan Hill-Carol Vancouver Art Gallery

Matter exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery, July 9 – Oct. 10, 2016 Bharti Kher, Virus VII, 2016, Photo: Megan Hill-Carol Vancouver Art Gallery

It is a stunning piece that almost seems to vibrate and is a fitting and sensual entry to the show.

For an alternative experience of the Kher show, there’s Robin Laurence’s July 6, 2016 preview titled: Bharti Kher’s hybrid vision merges humans with animals to address politics, sociology, and love for the Georgia Straight. Unexpectedly (for me), the first piece she sees is the heart,

The first artwork visitors will see when they enter Bharti Kher’s thoughtful and provocative exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery is a life-size sculpture of the heart of a blue sperm whale. The largest creature that now exists on our planet, the blue whale possesses a heart that is also the biggest in the world—the size, the artist says, of a small car. Kher’s realistic, cast-resin depiction of the organ’s two massive chambers, enormous aorta, and branching blood vessels is a work of weird grandeur.

To some, it might suggest an environmental message, a monument to a creature slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands in the 19th century and threatened in our own age by pollution and rising ocean temperatures. The artist, however, says the work is about the nature of love, and its title, An Absence of Assignable Cause, evokes the irrationality of that most vaunted and lamented emotion.

“More things have been written about love and all the ways around it,” she says. “I thought it would be interesting to talk about it using an animal as a metaphor.”

Picasso: The Artist and His Muses

Never having been a big fan of Pablo Picasso’s, I wouldn’t have made a special effort to see the VAG’s Picasso: The Artist and His Muses exhibition (June 11 – Oct. 2, 2016) but since I was already on premise for the Kher exhibit, it seemed to foolish to pass up the opportunity.

The show focuses on six women, his relationship with them, and how his art was affected by those relationships.

His most widely known images of women are those with the distorted features and extra or missing eyes and ears such as this,

Pablo Picasso Bust of a Woman (Dora Maar), 1938 oil on canvas Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966 © Picasso Estate/SODRAC (2016) Photo: Cathy Carver

Pablo Picasso
Bust of a Woman (Dora Maar), 1938
oil on canvas
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966
© Picasso Estate/SODRAC (2016)
Photo: Cathy Carver

These images have always left me cold. Seeing them in real life didn’t make that big a difference although I hadn’t fully appreciated their vibrancy having previously seen reproductions only. I did say I’m not a fan and that is especially true of the images of women most often seen. The surprise in this show, are the naturalistic studies where one can appreciate his extraordinary technique even if one is inclined to shun his distorted women.

I mention this show only because its subject, women, has been the direct and indirect focus of this commentary. For an even more jaundiced view of this show, you can read Robin Laurence’s June 10, 2016 preview of the VAG exhibition,

Muse is such a curiously antiquated term. Divine woman breathing inspiration into the mind of the creative male? Really? Still, Picasso: The Artist and His Muses has a more visitor-friendly sound to it than “Picasso and the Women He Fucked and Painted”. Not that visitor-friendly titles are a necessity where Pablo Picasso exhibitions are concerned.

The mere name of the man—easily the most famous artist of the 20th century, whose personal myth is built as much on his prodigious womanizing as on his protean art-making—guarantees attendance. Irrespective of what’s on view. Irrespective, too, of the challenges his work might pose to contemporary critics.

Organized with Art Centre Basel in Switzerland, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s big-draw summer show includes some 60 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints ranging across the years 1905 to 1971. Borrowed from an international array of public and private collections, it is the most ambitious exhibition of Picasso works ever shown in Western Canada.

I recommend reading both of Laurence’s pieces before going to the exhibit.

Final words

It seems when it comes to contemporary art, beauty is transgressive. The distortions with which Picasso experimented seem to have taken root and, like bamboo, taken over. So, an artist risks being shunned if his/her works are intrinsically beautiful (Lohan). Alternatively, an artist can include it by stealth (Kher) so viewers do not experience it as the primary impression.

All of these artists’ exhibitions have in one fashion or another focused on women. Lohan’s material of choice, porcelain, referenced women’s work indirectly and resonated in a fascinating way with Kher’s teacup bearing goddess. While Lohan and Kher are interested in women’s experiences (dressing/undressing and ornamentation (Kher), women’s roles in society (Lohan), meanwhile, Picasso seems to have considered women as raw material for his work.

Curiosity Collider (Vancouver, Canada) presents Neural Constellations: Exploring Connectivity

I think of Curiosity Collider as an informal art/science  presenter but I gather the organizers’ ambitions are more grand. From the Curiosity Collider’s About Us page,

Curiosity Collider provides an inclusive community [emphasis mine] hub for curious innovators from any discipline. Our non-profit foundation, based in Vancouver, Canada, fosters participatory partnerships between science & technology, art & culture, business communities, and educational foundations to inspire new ways to experience science. The Collider’s growing community supports and promotes the daily relevance of science with our events and projects. Curiosity Collider is a catalyst for collaborations that seed and grow engaging science communication projects.

Be inspired by the curiosity of others. Our Curiosity Collider events cross disciplinary lines to promote creative inspiration. Meet scientists, visual and performing artists, culinary perfectionists, passionate educators, and entrepreneurs who share a curiosity for science.

Help us create curiosity for science. Spark curiosity in others with your own ideas and projects. Get in touch with us and use our curiosity events to showcase how your work creates innovative new ways to experience science.

I wish they hadn’t described themselves as an “inclusive community.” This often means exactly the opposite.

Take for example the website. The background is in black, the heads are white, and the text is grey. This is a website for people under the age of 40. If you want to be inclusive, you make your website legible for everyone.

That said, there’s an upcoming Curiosity Collider event which looks promising (from a July 20, 2016 email notice),

Neural Constellations: Exploring Connectivity

An Evening of Art, Science and Performance under the Dome

“We are made of star stuff,” Carl Sagan once said. From constellations to our nervous system, from stars to our neurons. We’re colliding neuroscience and astronomy with performance art, sound, dance, and animation for one amazing evening under the planetarium dome. Together, let’s explore similar patterns at the macro (astronomy) and micro (neurobiology) scale by taking a tour through both outer and inner space.

This show is curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, along with Special Guest Curator Naila Kuhlmann, and developed in collaboration with the MacMillan Space Centre. There will also be an Art-Science silent auction to raise funding for future Curiosity Collider activities.

Participating performers include:

The July 20, 2016 notice also provides information about date, time, location, and cost,

7:30pm on Thursday, August 18th 2016. Join us for drinks and snacks when doors open at 6:30pm.

H. R. MacMillan Space Centre (1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver, BC)

$20.00 sliding scale. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events. Curiosity Collider is a registered BC non-profit organization. Purchase tickets on our Eventbrite page.

Head to the Facebook event page: Let us know you are coming and share this event with others! We will also share event updates and performer profiles on the Facebook page.

There is a pretty poster,


[downloaded from]


Beating tactical experts in combat simulation—AI with the processing power of a Raspberry Pi

It looks like one day combat may come down to who has the best artificial intelligence (AI) if a June 27, 2016 University of Cincinnati news release (also on EurekAlert) by M. B. Reilly is to be believed (Note: Links have been removed),

Artificial intelligence (AI) developed by a University of Cincinnati doctoral graduate was recently assessed by subject-matter expert and retired United States Air Force Colonel Gene Lee — who holds extensive aerial combat experience as an instructor and Air Battle Manager with considerable fighter aircraft expertise — in a high-fidelity air combat simulator.

The artificial intelligence, dubbed ALPHA, was the victor in that simulated scenario, and according to Lee, is “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI I’ve seen to date.”

Details on ALPHA – a significant breakthrough in the application of what’s called genetic-fuzzy systems are published in the most-recent issue of the Journal of Defense Management, as this application is specifically designed for use with Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) in simulated air-combat missions for research purposes.

The tools used to create ALPHA as well as the ALPHA project have been developed by Psibernetix, Inc., recently founded by UC College of Engineering and Applied Science 2015 doctoral graduate Nick Ernest, now president and CEO of the firm; as well as David Carroll, programming lead, Psibernetix, Inc.; with supporting technologies and research from Gene Lee; Kelly Cohen, UC aerospace professor; Tim Arnett, UC aerospace doctoral student; and Air Force Research Laboratory sponsors.

The news release goes on to provide a overview of ALPHA’s air combat fighting and strategy skills,

ALPHA is currently viewed as a research tool for manned and unmanned teaming in a simulation environment. In its earliest iterations, ALPHA consistently outperformed a baseline computer program previously used by the Air Force Research Lab for research.  In other words, it defeated other AI opponents.

In fact, it was only after early iterations of ALPHA bested other computer program opponents that Lee then took to manual controls against a more mature version of ALPHA last October. Not only was Lee not able to score a kill against ALPHA after repeated attempts, he was shot out of the air every time during protracted engagements in the simulator.

Since that first human vs. ALPHA encounter in the simulator, this AI has repeatedly bested other experts as well, and is even able to win out against these human experts when its (the ALPHA-controlled) aircraft are deliberately handicapped in terms of speed, turning, missile capability and sensors.

Lee, who has been flying in simulators against AI opponents since the early 1980s, said of that first encounter against ALPHA, “I was surprised at how aware and reactive it was. It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It knew how to defeat the shot I was taking. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed.”

He added that with most AIs, “an experienced pilot can beat up on it (the AI) if you know what you’re doing. Sure, you might have gotten shot down once in a while by an AI program when you, as a pilot, were trying something new, but, until now, an AI opponent simply could not keep up with anything like the real pressure and pace of combat-like scenarios.”

But, now, it’s been Lee, who has trained with thousands of U.S. Air Force pilots, flown in several fighter aircraft and graduated from the U.S. Fighter Weapons School (the equivalent of earning an advanced degree in air combat tactics and strategy), as well as other pilots who have been feeling pressured by ALPHA.

And, anymore [sic], when Lee flies against ALPHA in hours-long sessions that mimic real missions, “I go home feeling washed out. I’m tired, drained and mentally exhausted. This may be artificial intelligence, but it represents a real challenge.”

New goals have been set for ALPHA according to the news release,

Explained Ernest, “ALPHA is already a deadly opponent to face in these simulated environments. The goal is to continue developing ALPHA, to push and extend its capabilities, and perform additional testing against other trained pilots. Fidelity also needs to be increased, which will come in the form of even more realistic aerodynamic and sensor models. ALPHA is fully able to accommodate these additions, and we at Psibernetix look forward to continuing development.”

In the long term, teaming artificial intelligence with U.S. air capabilities will represent a revolutionary leap. Air combat as it is performed today by human pilots is a highly dynamic application of aerospace physics, skill, art, and intuition to maneuver a fighter aircraft and missiles against adversaries, all moving at very high speeds. After all, today’s fighters close in on each other at speeds in excess of 1,500 miles per hour while flying at altitudes above 40,000 feet. Microseconds matter, and the cost for a mistake is very high.

Eventually, ALPHA aims to lessen the likelihood of mistakes since its operations already occur significantly faster than do those of other language-based consumer product programming. In fact, ALPHA can take in the entirety of sensor data, organize it, create a complete mapping of a combat scenario and make or change combat decisions for a flight of four fighter aircraft in less than a millisecond. Basically, the AI is so fast that it could consider and coordinate the best tactical plan and precise responses, within a dynamic environment, over 250 times faster than ALPHA’s human opponents could blink.

So it’s likely that future air combat, requiring reaction times that surpass human capabilities, will integrate AI wingmen – Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) – capable of performing air combat and teamed with manned aircraft wherein an onboard battle management system would be able to process situational awareness, determine reactions, select tactics, manage weapons use and more. So, AI like ALPHA could simultaneously evade dozens of hostile missiles, take accurate shots at multiple targets, coordinate actions of squad mates, and record and learn from observations of enemy tactics and capabilities.

UC’s Cohen added, “ALPHA would be an extremely easy AI to cooperate with and have as a teammate. ALPHA could continuously determine the optimal ways to perform tasks commanded by its manned wingman, as well as provide tactical and situational advice to the rest of its flight.”

Happily, insight is provided into the technical aspects (from the news release),

It would normally be expected that an artificial intelligence with the learning and performance capabilities of ALPHA, applicable to incredibly complex problems, would require a super computer in order to operate.

However, ALPHA and its algorithms require no more than the computing power available in a low-budget PC in order to run in real time and quickly react and respond to uncertainty and random events or scenarios.

According to a lead engineer for autonomy at AFRL, “ALPHA shows incredible potential, with a combination of high performance and low computational cost that is a critical enabling capability for complex coordinated operations by teams of unmanned aircraft.”

Ernest began working with UC engineering faculty member Cohen to resolve that computing-power challenge about three years ago while a doctoral student. (Ernest also earned his UC undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics in 2011 and his UC master’s, also in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, in 2012.)

They tackled the problem using language-based control (vs. numeric based) and using what’s called a “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” (GFT) system, a subtype of what’s known as fuzzy logic algorithms.

States UC’s Cohen, “Genetic fuzzy systems have been shown to have high performance, and a problem with four or five inputs can be solved handily. However, boost that to a hundred inputs, and no computing system on planet Earth could currently solve the processing challenge involved – unless that challenge and all those inputs are broken down into a cascade of sub decisions.”

That’s where the Genetic Fuzzy Tree system and Cohen and Ernest’s years’ worth of work come in.

According to Ernest, “The easiest way I can describe the Genetic Fuzzy Tree system is that it’s more like how humans approach problems.  Take for example a football receiver evaluating how to adjust what he does based upon the cornerback covering him. The receiver doesn’t think to himself: ‘During this season, this cornerback covering me has had three interceptions, 12 average return yards after interceptions, two forced fumbles, a 4.35 second 40-yard dash, 73 tackles, 14 assisted tackles, only one pass interference, and five passes defended, is 28 years old, and it’s currently 12 minutes into the third quarter, and he has seen exactly 8 minutes and 25.3 seconds of playtime.’”

That receiver – rather than standing still on the line of scrimmage before the play trying to remember all of the different specific statistics and what they mean individually and combined to how he should change his performance – would just consider the cornerback as ‘really good.’

The cornerback’s historic capability wouldn’t be the only variable. Specifically, his relative height and relative speed should likely be considered as well. So, the receiver’s control decision might be as fast and simple as: ‘This cornerback is really good, a lot taller than me, but I am faster.’

At the very basic level, that’s the concept involved in terms of the distributed computing power that’s the foundation of a Genetic Fuzzy Tree system wherein, otherwise, scenarios/decision making would require too high a number of rules if done by a single controller.

Added Ernest, “Only considering the relevant variables for each sub-decision is key for us to complete complex tasks as humans. So, it makes sense to have the AI do the same thing.”

In this case, the programming involved breaking up the complex challenges and problems represented in aerial fighter deployment into many sub-decisions, thereby significantly reducing the required “space” or burden for good solutions. The branches or sub divisions of this decision-making tree consists of high-level tactics, firing, evasion and defensiveness.

That’s the “tree” part of the term “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system.

Programming that’s language based, genetic and generational

Most AI programming uses numeric-based control and provides very precise parameters for operations. In other words, there’s not a lot of leeway for any improvement or contextual decision making on the part of the programming.

The AI algorithms that Ernest and his team ultimately developed are language based, with if/then scenarios and rules able to encompass hundreds to thousands of variables. This language-based control or fuzzy logic, while much less about complex mathematics, can be verified and validated.

Another benefit of this linguistic control is the ease in which expert knowledge can be imparted to the system. For instance, Lee worked with Psibernetix to provide tactical and maneuverability advice which was directly plugged in to ALPHA. (That “plugging in” occurs via inputs into a fuzzy logic controller. Those inputs consist of defined terms, e.g., close vs. far in distance to a target; if/then rules related to the terms; and inputs of other rules or specifications.)

Finally, the ALPHA programming is generational. It can be improved from one generation to the next, from one version to the next. In fact, the current version of ALPHA is only that – the current version. Subsequent versions are expected to perform significantly better.

Again, from UC’s Cohen, “In a lot of ways, it’s no different than when air combat began in W.W. I. At first, there were a whole bunch of pilots. Those who survived to the end of the war were the aces. Only in this case, we’re talking about code.”

To reach its current performance level, ALPHA’s training has occurred on a $500 consumer-grade PC. This training process started with numerous and random versions of ALPHA. These automatically generated versions of ALPHA proved themselves against a manually tuned version of ALPHA. The successful strings of code are then “bred” with each other, favoring the stronger, or highest performance versions. In other words, only the best-performing code is used in subsequent generations. Eventually, one version of ALPHA rises to the top in terms of performance, and that’s the one that is utilized.

This is the “genetic” part of the “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system.

Said Cohen, “All of these aspects are combined, the tree cascade, the language-based programming and the generations. In terms of emulating human reasoning, I feel this is to unmanned aerial vehicles what the IBM/Deep Blue vs. Kasparov was to chess.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Genetic Fuzzy based Artificial Intelligence for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle Control in Simulated Air Combat Missions by Nicholas Ernest, David Carroll, Corey Schumacher, Matthew Clark, Kelly Cohen, and Gene Lee. J Def Manag [Journal of Defense Management]  6:144. doi:10.4172/2167-0374.1000144 Published: March 22, 2016

This is an open access paper.


The University of Cincinnati’s president, Santa Ono, recently accepted a job as president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), which is located in the region where I live. Nassif Ghoussoub, professor of mathematics at UBC, writes about Ono and his new appointment in a June 13, 2016 posting on his blog (Note: A link has been removed),

By the time you read this, UBC communications will already have issued the mandatory press release [the official announcement was made June 13, 2016] describing Santa Ono’s numerous qualifications for the job, including that he is a Canuck in the US, born in Vancouver, McGill PhD, a highly accomplished medical researcher, who is the President of the University of Cincinnati.

So, I shall focus here on what UBC communications may not be enclined [sic] to tell you, yet may be quite consequential for UBC’s future direction. After all, life experiences, gender, race, class, and character are what shape leadership.

President Ono seems to have had battles with mental illness, and have been courageous enough to deal with it and to publicly disclose it –as recently as May 24 [2016]– so as to destigmatize struggles that many people go through. It is interesting to note the two events that led the president to have suicidal thoughts: …

The post is well worth reading if you have any interest in Ono, UBC, and/or insight into some of the struggles even some of the most accomplished academics can encounter.

Prosthetics in North Carolina and in Vancouver, Canada

North Carolina

This is the first time I’ve seen any kind of hand prosthestic offering finger control. From a May 31, 2016 OrthoCarolina news release (received via email),

Two OrthoCarolina hand surgeons have successfully completed the first surgery to allow for a prosthetic hand with individual finger control on an amputee patient. Partnering with OrthoCarolina Research Institute (OCRI) in pursuit of medical breakthroughs through orthopedic research, Drs. Glenn Gaston and Bryan Loeffler conceptualized and performed the procedure involving transferring existing muscle from the fingers to the back of the hand and wrist without damaging the nerves and blood vessels to the muscles. The patient who underwent the test surgery is now able to control individual prosthetic fingers using the same muscles that controlled his fingers pre-amputation, making him the first person in the world to have individual digit control in a functioning myoelectric prosthesis.

“Patients who have sustained full or partial hand amputations obviously have significant morbidity and limited function, which is a challenge. Because of the limited number of muscles available after a hand amputation, prostheses have previously allowed only control of the thumb and fingers as a group and single finger control was never possible,” said Dr. Glenn Gaston.  “The severity of this patient’s injury was so great that replanting the lost fingers was not possible, so we collaborated on a new surgery that would allow him to have individual digital control.”

Hypothesizing that existing muscle in the back of human fingers could be transferred to the back of the hand and wrist without damaging the nerves and blood vessels to those muscles, Drs. Gaston and Loeffler first performed cadaveric testing to ensure feasibility. The goal of the initial project was for the small muscles that control individual fingers to regain control of prosthetic fingers by maintaining enough blood and nerve supply to allow the prosthetic limb to recognize individual digits.

With successful research completed, they collaborated with the Hanger Clinic to determine how much bone would be required to be removed from the hand, allowing the prosthetic componentry enough space to maintain a normal hand length.

The two surgeons jointly performed the surgery as a pilot case on a partial hand amputee, moving the muscles while still allowing the prosthesis to detect signals from the transferred muscles; a procedure never before reported in orthopedic literature.

“Imagine the limitations you would have if all of your fingers had to move as one unit, and then suddenly you were able to move individual fingers to perform specific actions,” said Dr. Bryan Loeffler. “This muscle transfer is a breakthrough that could impact how upper extremity amputees are managed and specific amputations are done in the future.”

Drs. Loeffler and Gaston have completed a cadaver model demonstrating the capability of the same type of surgery for a more proximal level total hand amputation. They presented their research at a podium presentation to the First International Symposium on Innovations in Amputation Surgery and Prosthetic Technologies (IASPT) May 12-13, 2016 in Chicago.

OrthoCarolina Research Institute is an independent non-profit committed to the advancement of orthopedic practice through clinical research. OCRI will continue to support this ground-breaking research and the manufacturing of this cutting edge prosthesis. “This is a tremendous example of the life-changing impact that orthopedic research plays in advancing patient outcomes,” said Christi Cadd, Executive Director of OCRI.

You can find out more about OrthoCarolina here.

Vancouver, Canada

While they celebrate exciting prosthetic news in North Carolina, those of us in Vancouver have been given the opportunity to view an unusual display of vintage artificial limbs (prosthetics) in an exhibition, All Together Now, featuring a number of rarely seen private collections including corsets, Chinese restaurant menus, and pinball machines. From a June 22, 2016 article by Janet Smith for the Georgia Straight, here’s more about the prosthetic collection,

For those unfamiliar, the lifelike artificial legs and arms that hang on the Museum of Vancouver’s wall might seem like medical oddities from a less advanced era.

But for collector David Moe, a certified prosthetist, they are integral, inspiring pieces for his career, his teaching, and his workspace.

“I love them all,” he says with enthusiasm, standing in the museum’s giant new exhibit All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their World, in a corner of an expansive, cabinet-of-curiosities-styled room that houses everything from scores of local Chinese-restaurant menus to rows of 19th-century corsets and a glass case full of hundreds of action figures. “It’s very strange because they have been all around me for so long and they have sat in predominant spaces at work—they sit on the top of a shelf. So when I walk back in there right now there are these kinds of empty holes.

“But I’m happy to have them on display and to let people think about what they see and have the opportunity to have them think about prosthetics. Because nobody ever thinks about them until they need one.”

Moe began collecting almost from his start, at the age of 14, when he worked sweeping floors and pouring plaster at Northern Alberta Prosthetic & Orthotic Services, his family’s business in Edmonton. One of his first big finds was a leg that sits in the exhibit today—a meticulously carved wooden limb covered in smooth skin-tone leather, dating back to the 1930s. At the time, he recognized the craftsmanship and tucked it away where it wouldn’t disappear; today he still marvels at the anatomical design, with a hinged knee that bends with the use of straps.

“… . The math is the math. But we’ve moved so far. I really love where we’ve come from,” says Moe, gesturing to the vintage pieces he uses regularly to teach students at BCIT [British Columbia Institute of Technology]. He says he can appreciate the human touch and deep care that went into each one, then adds: “All of these were used by people, so the energy of these people is in these. I feel that responsibility of these people in here.”

To show how far his specialty has come, though, Moe has juxtaposed the historic limbs with modern-day advances—decorative limb coverings with fashionable latticework, or a kids’ shin piece that’s been emblazoned with a comic-book image of Superman. Now, instead of trying to just mimic natural limbs, some people are opting for statement pieces that actually draw attention to their prosthetic. “This empowers them in this powerless situation where someone has amputated your leg,” he notes.

As with other exhibits in All Together Now, there are audiovisuals that accompany his collection—in this case showing people using the advanced limbs of today, from a female triathlete carrying her baby to another client playing competitive volleyball.

“When someone does the Grouse Grind or, hell, just walks their child down the street, that’s when they come alive. We’re rebuilding lives, not pieces,” Moe says.

You can find out more about All Together Now here,

All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds features 20 beautiful, rare, and unconventional collections, with something for everyone including corsets, prosthetics, pinball machines, taxidermy, toys, and much more. In this exhibition both collector and collected are objects of study, interaction, and delight.

The exhibition runs until January 8, 2017. The last Thursday of the month is by donation from 5 pm to 8 pm. More information about admission can be found here and you might also want to check out the exhibition’s Events page.

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) June 28, 2016 talk: Why Online Dating Doesn’t Work

Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique seems to be roaming around;  Shebeen Whiskey House (212 Carrall St) is hosting the next Café Scientifique talk. From the June 6, 2016 notice received via email,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday June 28th [2016], 7:30pm at the Shebeen Whiskey House (212 Carrall St). Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Martin Graff, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Wales, UK. The title of his talk is:

Why Online Dating Doesn’t Work

There is much evidence that being in a good relationship can be beneficial to our health, happiness and general well-being.  However, should we resort to online dating in the pursuit of a happy relationship?  Psychological research would seem to suggest that online dating may not be the easy answer.

This talk focuses on the reasons why we should be cautious in our online dating pursuits.  For example, people make bad decisions in online dating.  Furthermore, those we contact are often not what they appear to be.  Additionally, there is no evidence that the algorithms employed by dating sites and which purport to match us with a desirable partner actually work in reality.

Finally, this talk will also give some tips on how to at least maximize our chances in an online dating environment.

Dr. Martin Graff is Reader and Head of Research in Psychology at the University of South Wales, UK, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Chartered Psychologist.  He has researched cognitive processes in web-based learning, the formation and dissolution of romantic relationships online and offline, online persuasion and disinhibition. He has written over 50 scientific articles, published widely in the field of Internet behaviour, and presented his work at numerous International Conferences. He writes for Psychology Today magazine and regularly speaks at events in the UK and Internationally.

Happy dating!

Two May 31, 2016 talks (Why nuclear power is necessary and DNA is not destiny) in Vancouver, Canada

Both the upcoming science talks in Vancouver are scheduled for May 31, 2016. Isn’t that always the way?

Why nuclear power is necessary

This talk is being held by ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada). From the ARPICO event page,

Why Nuclear Power is Necessary


Patrick Walden graduated with a B.Sc. in Physics from UBC and a Ph.D in Particle Physics from Caltech. His Post Doctoral research was done at the Stanford University Linear Accelerator (SLAC), and since 1974 he has been at TRIUMF here in Vancouver. Patrick has been active in the fields of pion photo-production, meson spectroscopy, the dynamics of pion production from nuclei, and nuclear astrophysics.


Nuclear power is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions-free energy in the world. It supplies approximately 5% of the world’s total energy demand. Presently, human activity is on the brink of initiating a global greenhouse climate catastrophe unless we can limit our greenhouse gas emissions.

In this talk, Dr. Patrick Walden will examine the concerns about nuclear power and the reasons why, contrary to public perception, nuclear power is one of the safest, most economical, plentiful, and greenest sources of energy available.


  • May 31, 2016 – 7:00pm
  • Roundhouse Community Centre – Room B – (181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver BC V6Z2W3)
  • Underground pay parking is available, access off Drake St. south of Pacific Blvd.
    Admission by donation. Q&A and complimentary refreshments follow. Registration is highly recommended as seating is limited. RSVP at or at EventBrite by May 28th, 2016.

A map for the location can be found here.

There is a Skytrain station nearbyYaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station

DNA is not destiny

This month’s Café Scientifique talk is being held in downtown Vancouver at Yaggers (433 W. Pender St.). Details of the talk are (from the May 13, 2016 email announcement,

… Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Steven Heine, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at UBC [University of British Columbia]. The title of his talk is:

DNA is Not Destiny: How Essences Distort how we Think about Genes

People the world over are essentialist thinkers – they are attracted to the idea that hidden essences make things as they are. And because genetic concepts remind people of essences, they tend to think of genes in ways similar to essences. That is, people tend to think about genetic causes as immutable, deterministic, homogenous, discrete, and natural.  Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialist biases lead people to think differently about sex, race, crime, eugenics, and disease whenever these are described in genetic terms. Moreover, Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialistic biases make people vulnerable to the sensationalist hype that has emerged with the genomic revolution and access to direct-to-consumer genotyping services.


Tuesday May 31st, 7:30pm at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W Pender).

I have found a little more information about Dr. Steven Heine and his work (from his University of British Columbia webpage),

Our lab is currently working on three distinct research programs, which we refer to as Cultural Psychology, Meaning Maintenance, and Genetic Essentialism.

Our third research program on genetic esssentialism considers how people understand essences and genetic foundations for human behavior. We propose that encounters with genetic explanations for human outcomes prompts people to think of those outcomes in essentiialized ways, by viewing those outcomes as more deterministic, immutable, and fatalistic. For example, we find that women are more vulnerable to stereotype threat when they hear of genetic reasons for why men outperform women in math than when they hear of environmental reasons for this difference. We also find that men are more tolerant of sex crimes when they learn of genetic basis for sexual motivations than when they hear of social-constructivist accounts. We are conducting several studies to explore the ways that people respond to genetic accounts for human conditions.

Have fun whichever one you choose to attend.