Web reviews

The Pearcey Foundation

www.pearcey.org.au

It's a little-known fact that Australians built CSIRAC, the fourth computer on Earth - a stunning technological achievement which could have put our country at the very forefront of the world's most lucrative industry - way back in 1949. The man who led that project was Dr Trevor Pearcey, whose achievements are commemorated by a series of awards for Australian achievement in the computing sciences.

It's a little ironic that the patron of the site is the Prime Minister, John Howard, since the visionary computer project was cancelled by his predecessor, Robert Menzies, in favour of a doomed plan for seeding clouds to increase rainfall. Not much has changed since then, as successive governments continue to miss the point of computer technology.

Vlifescience

www.vlifescience.com.au

This is a community site for Australians working in the biological sciences, and despite its recent creation, appears to offer a fairly comprehensive service. Debate and feedback are encouraged, and the front page survey indicates that scientists have no more faith in the technological wisdom of governments than those who saw CSIRAC cancelled.

Mindpixel Digital Mind Modeling Project

www.mindpixel.com

In yet another attempt to attain the Holy Grail of computing, artificial intelligence researcher Chris McKinstry is recruiting Web surfers to create a database which he hopes will eventually be able to teach machines what it is to be human.

This project is based on what McKinstry calls "mindpixels" - simple statements which most humans would consistently label "true" or "false", such as "fire burns (true)" or "water is not wet (false)". By 2010, he hopes, the database will contain a billion statements entered by two million people, enough information to enable a computer to share the same picture of the universe that is held by most humans.

Using this information, neural networks could then be trained to respond to conversation just like a real man or woman.

You can participate by registering your name and e-mail address, and then "talking with GAC" - participating in the creation of a Generic Artificial Consciousness. This is done by first entering a simple statement which can be judged "true" or "false" by most people.

Next, you have to validate the statements made by 20 other users, by saying whether you think they are true or false. In this way, GAC can gradually build up a picture of what the average person thinks about life, the universe and everything.

To encourage participation, contributors receive shares in the soon-to-be-incorporated project in proportion to the value of their contribution.

It's an ambitious project, and at this stage there is no way of knowing whether it will be able to produce its intended results or not. But at the very least, talking with GAC is an interesting way to pass an idle hour, and you will be contributing a little bit to the history of computer science - much knowledge will be gained, whatever the results.

The Silicon Zoo

micro.magnet.fsu.edu/creatures/

The integrated circuits which run our computers contain millions of tiny circuits which are etched onto the surface of a small silicon chip. Among these functional units can sometimes be found the products of boredom or artistic inspiration - tiny artworks created by the engineers who build the hardware foundations of our information society.

The Optical Microscopy Division of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Florida enjoys tracking down these silicon doodles as much as the chip engineers enjoy making them. This site features a rich gallery of the minuscule masterpieces hidden within computer circuits, as well as explanations of how they are made, discovered and displayed.

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Aldis Ozols

PC World
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