Tag Archives: automatic content generation

Monkey writes baseball story; Feynman symposium at USC; US government releases nanotechnology data sets; World Economic Forum (at Davos) interested in science

To my horror, researchers at Northwestern University in the US have developed software (Stats Monkey) that will let you automatically generate a story about a baseball game by pressing a button. More specifically, the data from the game is input to a database which when activated can generate content based on the game’s statistics.

I knew this would happen when I interviewed some expert at Xerox about 4 or 5 years ago. He was happily burbling on about tagging words and being able to call information up into a database and generating text automatically. I noted that as a writer I found the concept disturbing. He claimed that it would never be used for standard writing but just for things which are repetitive. I guess he was thinking it could be used for instructions and such or perhaps he was just trying to placate me. Back to stats monkey: I find it interesting that the researchers don’t display any examples of the ‘writing’. If you are interested, you can check out the project here.

The discussion about the nanotechnology narrative continues. At the University of Southern California, they will be holding a 50th anniversary symposium about the publication (in 1960)  of Feynman’s 1959 talk, There’s plenty of room at the bottom, and its impact on nanotechnology. You can read more about the event here or you can see the programme for the symposium here.

Bravo to the US government as they are releasing information to the public in a bid for transparency. Dave Bruggeman at Pasco Phronesis notes that the major science agencies had not released data sets at the time of his posting. Still, the Office of Science and Technology Policy did make data available including data about the National Nanotechnology Initiative,

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) coordinates Federal nanotechnology research and development among 25 Federal agencies. The data presented here represent NNI investments by agency and program component area (PCA) from the Initiative’s founding in FY 2001 through FY 2010 (requested). These data have been available as part of the NNI’s annual supplements to the President’s Budget. But compared to earlier releases, the data as presented here are more accessible and readily available for analysis by users wishing to assess trends and examine investment allocations over the 10-year history of the NNI. The cumulative NNI investment of nearly $12 billion is advancing our understanding of the unique phenomena and processes that occur at the nanoscale and is helping leverage that knowledge to speed innovation in high-impact opportunity areas such as energy, security, and medicine.

You can get the data set here in either XLS or PDF formats.

It would be very difficult to get this type of information in Canada as we have no central hub for nanotechnology research funding. We do have the National Institute of Nanotechnology which is a National Research Council agency jointly funded by the province of Alberta and the federal government. Not all nanotechnology research is done under their auspices. There’s more than one government agency which funds nanotechnology research and there is no reporting mechanism that would allow us to easily find out how much funding or where it’s going.

The 2010 edition of the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos takes place January 27 – 31. It’s interesting to note that a meeting devoted to economic issues has sessions on science, social media, the arts, etc. which suggests a much broader view of economics than I’m usually exposed to. However, the session on ‘Entrepreneurial Science’ does ring a familiar note. From the session description,

According to the US National Academy of Sciences, only 0.1% of all funded basic science research results in a commercial venture.

How can the commercial viability of scientific research be improved?

I’m not sure how they derived the figure of 0.1%. Was the data international? Were they talking about government-funded research? Over what period of time? (It’s not uncommon for research to lie fallow for decades before conditions shift sufficiently to allow commercialization.) How do you determine the path from research to commercialization? e.g. Perhaps the work that resulted in a commercial application was based on 10 other studies that did not.