Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Special Methods Software Project

I have suggested a number of projects that can contribute to software development and economic growth in the state of Texas.  I mentioned the  Special Methods Software Project when I laid out the Texas Software Initiative, but I did not define it then.  There are a number of specialty areas in computer science that can have economic impact, but are little studied and have limited use.  However, the impact of special methods can be significant.  Here is a short list of special topics.

  1. Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems
  2. Autonomous Agents
  3. Cellular Automata Software
  4. Genetic Algorithms
  5. Complexity Theory

This list is not exclusive, and not be any means exhaustive, but it is a starting point for discussion.  Google's self-driving car is an example of an autonomous agent.  Some people think the Google car can reduce traffic jams and save lives by reducing the effects of bad driving.  Some people think it is part of a plan to replace truck drivers with robots, throwing more people out of work.  Software certainly has an impact on our society.

I can recommend a good book as a start into the field complexity:  Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell.  I have read it from cover-to-cover and found it fascinating.  This book by Dr. Mitchell is intended for the general audience and I found it at the public library. 

Another book that is interesting, although a bit quirky, is The Sciences of the Artificial by Herbert Simon.  This book by Dr. Simon does not use advance math, so in a sense it is accessible to the general reader. On the other hand, you are getting access to the mind of a brilliant man.  This is a treat, but you must be patient and follow him where he goes. I like to hold a book in my hand, so it is nice to know you can buy a copy from  But if you are not sure about this book, you can peruse a PDF copy before buying a paperback copy.

Why take the time to be patient with Herbert Simon's book?  Let's consider just a few of his honors:
  1. Turing Award (1975)
  2. Nobel Prize in Economics (1978)
  3. von Neumann Theory Prize (1988)
Dr. Simon was is an intellectual heavyweight, but this is book is accessible.  Here is a quote from the preface to "The Sciences of the Artificial:" 
"... of particular relevance is the recent vigorous eruption of interest in complexity and complex systems. In the previous editions of this book I commented only briefly on the relation between general ideas about complexity and the particular hierarchic form of complexity with which the book is chiefly concerned. I now introduce a new chapter to remedy this deficit. It will appear that the devotees of complexity (among whom I count myself) are a rather motley crew, not at all unified in our views on reductionism. Various among us favor quite different tools for analyzing complexity and speak nowadays of "chaos," "adaptive systems," and "genetic algorithms." In the new chapter 7, "Alternative Views of  Complexity'' ("The Architecture of Complexity" having become chapter 8), I sort out these themes and draw out the implications of artificiality and hierarchy for complexity."

These specialty software topics are fascinating and can contribute economically to the state of Texas.

This post is part of the The Texas Software Initiative.