Participate Please

Call for Artists

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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the January 21, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Brains Work in Not-So-Mysterious Ways

The Holy Grail for computer programmers, particularly those that work

in artificial intelligence, is to create programs that grow to be like

human understanding. Such programs could make more robust and flexible

decisions. They would be real servants, brain substitutes for many

kinds of tasks, including the actual task of computer programming.

Eric B. Baum, a scientist who until two years ago was working at NEC

Research Institute on Independence Way, offers insights to the field

of artificial intelligence in his new book "What is Thought?" (MIT

Press, $40). Baum will speak at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair on

Thursday, January 22, at 7 p.m. His book is billed as a major

contribution to the study of the mind.

The title of the book refers to Erwin Schroedinger’s classic 1944

work, "What Is Life?" Ten years before the discovery of DNA,

Schroedinger suggested that life must be explainable at a fundamental

level by physics and chemistry. Similarly Baum contends that the

present-day inability of computer science to explain thought and

meaning is no reason to doubt that there can be such an explanation.

"I would argue that all thought is equivalent to execution of certain

very specific kinds of computer code, and my book is about how to make

sense of that," he says.

"This book is the deepest, and at the same time the most

commonsensical, approach to the problem of mind and thought that I

have read," says Philip W. Anderson, a Princeton University professor

who won the Nobel prize in physics in 1977.

Eric Baum’s father, Leonard, is a PhD from Harvard who had worked at

the Institute for Defense Analyses. Eric Baum graduated from Harvard

in 1978 and has a PhD in physics from Princeton University. He was a

senior research scientist at the NEC Research Institute Computer

Science Division from 1990 to 2002. He left NEC as a result of NEC

pruning its basic research laboratories to focus instead on project

development. He is married and has two teenage children. Both father

and son serve on the board of Netrics, a software development firm on

State Road.

Baum’s theories on how DNA programs the brain lead to a better

understanding of human mental processes – of consciousness, of

learning, and of language. His theories also have major implications

for humans’ ability to produce smart computers that are like us. This

has practical implications. For instance, he is working on algorithms

based on machine learning and Bayesian reasoning in order to found a

hedge fund.

But making computers smart is a harder task than artificial

intelligence scientists have previously thought, says Baum. For

instance, Baum’s kind of computer programming is very different from

the chess playing abilities of IBM’s Deep Blue. "People have abilities

that computers don’t," says Baum, "and my book covers what those

abilities are and how they come about."

The kind of DNA programming that he believes exists in the brain has

not been recognized by other scientists in the neural net field. His

theories are based on the idea that people don’t become smart as a

result of merely growing from being an infant to being an adult.

Instead, our intelligence largely results from 4 billion years that it

took for humans to evolve. "I claim that extremely hard computation is

necessary to extract what you need, and this is done by evolution,

which had massive computational resources at its disposal because it

took place over billions of years." So when an infant brain grows to

be an adult brain, it taps previously written code.

"If you look at most books by artificial intelligence theorists they

are optimistic that we can have smart machines in 20 years, just as we

produce smart adults in that length of time," says Baum. "Though I am

pessimistic about such quick development, my book does give models for

alternative learning algorithms that have speeded up the evolution of

computer programs and achieved results that approach understanding."

– Barbara Fox

"What is Thought?", Eric B. Baum, Barnes & Noble, MarketFair,

609-716-1570. Thursday, January 22, 7 p.m.

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Mercer County Community College seeks actors age 30 and above for a

production of "The Grapes of Wrath." Auditions are Saturday, January

24, 1 to 5 p.m. in the Studio Theater (CM122). Call Nick Anselmo at

609-586-4800, ext. 3524.

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Participate Please

Philomusica Choir offers a sight singing class for adults to develop

or improve their skills. Beginners, as well as those with some

experience, are welcome to register for the professionally taught

class given on Mondays from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Society, East

Brunswick. The next eight-week class begins Monday, February 9. Fee of

$170.95 includes textbook. Register by February 2. Questions to or 888-744-5668.

Arts Council of Princeton offers "Communiverses," a series of

creative writing workshops for students in grades 6 to 8, and for

homeschooled students. The series of seven workshops begins February

3, at 4:30 p.m., at 102 Witherspoon Street. The cost is $85. Register

at 609-924-8777.

United Jewish Federation Princeton Mercer Bucks has funds available

for Israel scholarships. To apply, call Edna at 609-987-8100.

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Call for Artists

Township of Lawrence seeks artists for the Lawrence Arts and Music

Festival to be held on Saturday, February 21, at Rider University.

Music, dance, theater, poetry, painting, photography, sculpture, and

ceramics are welcome. Call Steve Groeger at 609-844-7067 for


Arts Council of Princeton seeks artists, crafters, vendors, nonprofit

organizations, and performers for Communiversity 2004. The street

fair is held on Saturday, April 24, from noon to 5 p.m. in downtown

Princeton and across the university campus. Deadline for entrants is

Monday, March 15. Call 609-924-8777.

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