Natural Intelligence

I noticed the other day that "Joanna Bryson" is no longer the most popular search term for finding my main web pages at Bath. There are twice as many people who go there looking for "Natural Intelligence". It turns out that my page "Understanding Natural Intelligence" is the top hit on Google for that term, which is strange given I'm hardly the first person to use it. I guess the page has a nice summary.

I had always hoped (well, originally expected) to teach a course by that name at Bath, but our former HoD wouldn't let my proposal go before the teaching committee. The idea is, to quote Josh Epstein, is you don't understand something if you can't build it. So the course would mostly be about modelling intelligent systems in nature, but would also be a good introduction to cognition, distributed intelligence, learning, evolution, etc. And to science writing --- I'd like to model the coursework structure on Gary King's Replication Replication.

Anyway, sorry I haven't blogged in two weeks. I've been busy. Let's see -- I'm moderately surprised I didn't mention in my last blog that that Sunday in Grünau I went to mass and then lunch at a trout farm with a retired school teacher from Germany. She had been coming to that hotel for a couple weeks a year for decades, and in fact her mother's favourite room was also Konrad Lorenz's. Like a lot of school teachers I tend to meet she was very into botany and showing me plants along the trails. Mass was a great way to practice my German -- there's only so many things people tend to talk about in church, and when you are singing hymns you can tell if you are pronouncing things wrong by listening to the people around you. I found out a week later that I can also start to understand football (soccer) telecasts in German. Anyway, after dinner I did indeed go walking up into the hills -- there are elaborate well-kept footpaths like in Korea. I walked into some vocal argument between some deer. The woods looked just like a Klimt landscape. Except the roads being built everywhere as people build new houses.

I got back to the KLI and got to work three days more on grants and papers (well, I was doing that on the train & in the hotel too). I got to see Pamelia Kurstin again. She was playing with three other people, one a famous blind accordion player Otto Lechner, one a violin player, one an electric violin player. Again it was melodic free jazz -- just amazing. About half the time it was like the most exciting parts of a Shostakovitch quartet. There were only about 30 people there in this little incredibly hot jazz bar -- they closed the windows when they were playing. There were thousands of people in Vienna for the soccer then, it was weird that so few people were there for something so wonderful and unique. She has said I can get a CD of the performance from her, so hopefully I will.

Wednesday afternoon I went to the KLI-Ethology again to hear a talk about EvoDevo -- selection for life histories in predatory birds. I met the director there again Dustin Penn and told him my new ideas about the Baldwin Effect leading sympatric speciation, and he was very enthusiastic about it and showed me a ton of zebra fish we could use to study it. I wasn't really looking for zebra fish, but maybe now I have another grant to write --- two big grants would I think be enough to have a good-sized group when I get back to teaching, but you can't count on them coming through.

Thursday morning Will was meant to arrive on an overnight train from Saarbrücken, but he got stuck in I think Mannheim for three hours midnight-3am as his connection was late. It was the night after the last German win in EuroCup, but the Germans didn't know that yet and were really happy. So anyway, he only got to Vienna an hour before I had to go to Munich, so we only had lunch together. In Munich I met up with my postdoc Veronica Sundstedt and we went to dinner in the city, then came back to the airport hotel and met up with my other postdoc Dylan Evans at about 11:30pm and stayed up arguing about robots and ethics until 1am. Then the next day there was a meeting of euCognition, which was pretty interesting. Veronica and Dylan are doing a great job building up a website doing "outreach" for Cognitive Systems, which we finally got live for the meeting. We're also trying to find publishers for a book on the topic, I spent some time on that this past Friday.

Anyway, back to last Friday, after the meeting we took the train from Munich to Zürich, which took about four hours. It was fortunate it was so close to midsummer, as it was light the whole way there and very beautiful. We spent the time discussing and planning the project -- it was the longest we'd been together actually in the same room talking -- the second longest was when we interviewed Veronica! Mostly I am supervising by IM session.

In Zürich we attended a workshop on teaching with robots, since encouraging students to take courses leading to qualification in careers in cognitive systems is one of the main goals of the grant. It was a small workshop but with totally amazing people from Zürich, Tufts and CMU. The workshop ended early afternoon so I went to another workshop on learning robots where my friend Aude Billard was speaking. It was quite shocking because counting me we had at least four female roboticists all in the same room. In fact, I think there were a lot more, but anyway I wound up going out that evening with two who are know assistant professors at Georgia Tech. There were also a number of people from Google Zürich, who took us to a really nice "club" outdoors on docks over a river. I have to say Zürich handled the EuroCup a lot better than Vienna -- there were no walls or inaccessible tram routes.

Sunday Veronica & Dylan left but I stayed one more night to go talk to Carel van Schaik about my current modelling work (and one of my students'), and talk about modelling and validation, and also the anti-social punishment grant. He had a few meetings during the day too so I got a new extension on one of our models written --- added sexual reproduction into a model of selection for dominance. It was an idea Hagen & I had come up with but Hagen had never gotten coded. Anyway, I finally got home late Monday evening and Will was out drinking with Hagen! I got really unreasonably frustrated about that, but I really had thought he might be waiting at home to see me. I'd lost my phone on the plane so couldn't call him, but he knew that and I thought knew not to expect me to.

Well, the rest of the week was more normal -- I have been working on writing papers, though Friday we had dinner with Dustin Penn and his wife -- it turns out they live right near us -- and talked more about the Baldwin Effect. Dustin's wife Sarah is also working with the zebra fish concerning social learning, but is about to go on two year's maternity leave. Then Saturday my neuroscientists friend from Harvard / Oxford Mark Baxter came. Fortunately he also was behind on work so we are again sitting in my favorite cafe, but I think he has gotten a lot more work done than I have, I feel silly sitting here this long just writing a blog! He types even faster than I do -- I wonder what the correlation between typing speed and number of publications is? We've been talking about academia and learning in animals. He left Harvard to take up a fellowship at Oxford so doesn't have to teach, but the fellowship is up next year and he has to decide what to do next.

Well, I will go back to working on overdue reviews or grant proposals now! We are meeting Will for dinner in a couple hours and then going to see a silent film being shown in a park. We also found the most amazing tapas restaurant last night, and a beautiful cafe set in a platz under a church up in the 8th district. Vienna is amazing.