An integrative design-oriented research approach to autonomous agents

Here are some notes about a guest lecture I will give in Dr. Angelica Lim’s course on Affective Computing (Dpt of Computer Science) at SFU on 2020-07-16. (Twitter handle)

I aim to inspire students about the importance, enjoyability and challenges of trying to understand entire minds of autonomous agents, using an integrative design-oriented approach. I will present several interesting problems and functions that call for such an understanding, and focus mainly on mental perturbance.
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Homage to Aaron Sloman, Winner of the 2020 APA K. Jon Barwise Prize

Last month, Professor Aaron Sloman was awarded the 2020 K. Jon Barwise Prize which recognizes “significant and sustained contributions to areas relevant to philosophy and computing by an APA member. The prize will serve to credit those within our profession for their life long efforts in this field.”

Aaron Sloman university Birmingham
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Augmenting Your Use of LaunchBar and Alfred (Launcher Apps) with Hook’s Contextual Retrieval

The LaunchBar and Alfred launcher apps are super helpful. Amongst other things, they allow you to search for information with minimal typing. Hook is also an information retrieval app. However, Hook is designed for contextual information retrieval, i.e., to instantly retrieve information that is connected to the document or object you are working with in the current app of your choice, whether the item is on the web or on your Mac. Hence Hook’s slogan, “find without searching”.

On the Hook website, I’ve recently produced a blogged about how launchers can be used with Hook, and produced a screencast on the topic:

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A Q & A Brain Game on Brain Games and Self Improvement

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I was interviewed on Global TV BC last week as part of their “Health Series: Improving brain fitness”. Some of the discussion was to revolve around software for improving cognition and cognitive productivity.

What I hadn’t noticed in the various communications leading up to the interview was its scheduled duration: just 4 minutes! That includes the time the interviewer takes to ask her questions… So, I was playing their “brain game” that morning: trying to funnel my thoughts on these subjects into very succinct, helpful answers. Not an easy game.

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Can Your Bedtime Thinking Keep You Awake? Or Help You Fall Asleep?

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As an undergraduate student in psychology, on Sunday evenings I sometimes had trouble falling asleep.

In my third year, I was introduced to (and fell in love with) theoretical AI-driven cognitive science. I learned that Professor Claude Lamontagne had devised a computational theory of visual motion perception, from which he rigorously predicted an entirely new class of visual illusions. (By rigorously, I mean that his computer simulation of visual motion perception evinced these illusions: Sigma smooth pursuit eye movements). Lamontagne not only had a theory, he demonstrated the potential of theoretical AI for psychology. If you deeply understand a system, you may be able to predict new phenomena and also manipulate the system, and perhaps even trick it. (Sadly, rather than focusing on Lamontagne’s theory of visual motion perception, empirical psychologists latched onto Lamontagne’s Sigma effect merely as an experimental paradigm, which became a little empirical cottage industry. If you are interested in computational psychology, you must read Lamontagne’s thesis. It is a masterpiece.)

Lamontagne’s work led me to ask myself, “if I understood how the brain controls sleep onset, could I devise thought patterns that would help me fall asleep?” So, I would try to form a model of the system, informally derive hypotheses from it, test them on myself, use the data to try to improve my understanding, and iterate.

Fast forward many moons: my colleagues and I conducted the first systematic literature review on sleep onset mentation, which was published in Sleep Medicine Reviews last month: Lemyre, A., Belzile, F., Landry, M., Bastien, C., & Beaudoin, L. P. (2020). Pre-sleep cognitive activity in adults: A systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 50, 1-13.

To help the general public understand it, with Laura Lefurgey-Smith, we then designed an infographic about our paper. The header image of this post is cut from that infographic.

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The Book I Read Last Year that Had the Greatest Impact on Me


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It was September 2019. I had had difficulty ploughing through Richard Wright’s book, Why Buddhism is True. And I had recently “read” When Things Fall Apart (by Pema Chödrön) — which I found helpful in some respects, but also repetitious and lacking in rigour. So it was that the science journalist, Peter Brems, recommended to me the book, Thoughts Are Not the Enemy: An Innovative Approach to Meditation Practice, suggesting it was very different from Wright’s and quite worth the read.

Peter is very knowledgeable about meditation and cognitive science… so I took up his latest recommendation. Continue reading The Book I Read Last Year that Had the Greatest Impact on Me

Our Paper in Sleep Medicine Reviews on Pre-sleep Cognitive Activity: A Systematic Review

Our systematic review of the literature on pre-sleep mental activity has been accepted for publication as a Clinical Review by the prestigious, high-impact journal, Sleep Medicine Reviews:

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Backlog of Comments on CogZest Published

I don’t know if it was due to aggressive spam filtering or what, but a number of comments submitted by readers of this (moderated) blog had accumulated that were not yet published. My apologies to the authors of these previously unpublished comments. I’ve now cleared the backlog, and I will keep an eye out for future comments.
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