Spaceapps challenge at York

An email from the University which may be of interest:


Hi there,

On the weekend of 20th and 21st April 2013, the Department of
Computer Science, University of York will be hosting the International
Space Apps Challenge, a free 2-day event on developing apps as
solutions that address real-world critical challenges set by NASA.

Participants compete against teams globally to win prizes, with the
winning team receiving special attention from NASA including a support
package to further develop the winning app.

No programming experience is necessary, just an enthusiasm for solving
problems. However, if you are a programmer and want to develop an app
that’s great, you are also very welcome to sign up.

The International Space Apps Challenge is a unique codeathon event,
which is happening in 50 locations worldwide simultaneously across the
weekend. It is your chance to develop solutions to real world problems
set by NASA, and your solution could have an immediate impact.

At the event, you will form a team with others taking part in the
codeathon, and you and your team will be focused on solving a particular
challenge. You will compete with other teams from around the world and
you will be able to use publicly available data to create your own solution
to NASA’s global challenges.

If you’d like more details on the event, visit our website at

or visit the official NASA Space Apps Challenge website at

You can keep in touch via Facebook at

and follow us on twitter

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us on

Best wishes

SpaceAppsChallenge-York Team

Unreal Tournament at the forefront of AI research (really)

I am not much of a computer games player, but I do have a fondness for Unreal Tournament– a network shoot-em-up game at which I have always been hopeless if

Human brain - midsagittal cut
Human brain – midsagittal cut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

enthusiastic (though I’ve not played for a few years now).

So I was pleasantly surprised to read that Unreal is now, according to the New Scientist, at the forefront of artificial intelligence research, (subscribers only at present).

Next week Unreal bots will battle human players at the IEEE Conference of Computational Intelligence and Games in Grenada, Spain and if a bot can convince human players it is real then its developers could win $7000. In past years the bots have only won a maximum of $2000 – the money that goes to the best bot that is not convincing as a human.

This year, though, hopes seem high that one bot – ‘Neurobot’ – has a real crack at the $7000 prize (it came second to ICE-CIG amongst the bots last year but Neurobot’s developers, from Imperial College in London, are hoping that improvements they have made put it in poll.)

The interesting thing is that Neurobot is the algorithm/concept being used – the bot doesn’t try to use computational power to fully absorb the scene and act on every piece of information, but instead discriminates using the principles of “global workplace theory” (GWT) which states that the human brain only pushes a small number of things into the forefront of thought – the “global workplace”.

Neurobot models the brain’s GWT with about 20,000 simulated neurons as opposed to the estimated 120 billion in the human brain.

Neurobot’s prospects for success might then suggest that the barrier to  successful AI has not really been the inability of computers to match the computational power of the human brain, but the failure, thus far at least, for human AI researchers to model how the brain works. In other words – we are not really as clever as we like to think (a thought which dominated much of the latter work of Alan Turing – as much discussed in Alan Turing: The Enigma (which I am still listening to – though I have got down to the final three hours of thirty).

Thirty years of the ZX Spectrum: the machine that killed computing?

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the advent of the ZX Spectrum, the micro-computer than really brought computing to the masses, in Britain at least.

Sinclair 48K ZX Spectrum computer (1982) Türkç...But I am in two minds about it. Unlike the BBC Micro it was not a rich-kids toy, as it cost half the price. But it also did more than anything to move the focus of UK home computing away from programming and on to games.

I am not claiming to be a saint in this regard either – when my brother and I finally got one I could feel my interest and enthusiasm for code-writing wane too. With all the good games that were available home made code from a 16 year old was never likely to match that from the increasingly professional software shops and anyway took time that could have been spent trying to crack the problems of the games (The Hobbit – see the video – was a favourite).

My brother, though, did keep hacking away. Even when doing his PhD, in the late 80s/early 90s he was still writing published code for the Spectrum (see SNA2TIFF).