Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Rediscovering Artificial Intelligence

My name is Ash and I'm a software developer. Sadly enough, I've wanted to write code professionally for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was programming long before I was old enough to understand that I could actually get paid for it. In 2008, I made this rather small dream a reality and I've been working in the industry ever since.

Programming from the age of 6 meant that I never had to try very hard at university, and so I didn't. I'm not proud of that, but nevertheless I found studying at university thoroughly unfulfilling. Artificial Intelligence was one of the only subjects in which I actually learnt something new. That said, the most intellectually stimulated I'd been in my university years was when I spent time working on personal projects, like some bits and pieces for the Linux Kernel. I studied two AI modules at university and they both consisted of understanding the theory of AI approaches as well as gaining practical knowledge of how to use commercial packages to create systems that employ these methods. I was disappointed that we never had the opportunity to create AI programmatically, from the ground up.

Not long after gaining full time employment in 2008, I realised that simply designing and implementing software solutions wasn't providing me with the stimulation I needed. I decided that I'd love to go back to university and study Artificial Intelligence at a higher level so I started reading some AI literature. It wasn't long before I realised that in order to really gain a deeper understanding of this material, I'd need to improve my mathematical knowledge. In September 2008, I started studying Mathematics at degree level, part time, while I continued to work full time. I still study Mathematics and will continue to do so, having gained an appreciation of the subject for its own merits. In fact, my attraction to mathematics has become so strong that I'd almost forgotten why I started studying it in the first place.

On 30th March 2010, the Large Hadron Collider came online (for the second time) and to celebrate the occasion, CERN ran a webcast to publicise this 'First Physics' event. I was listening to the event at work and the words of one Physicist really made an impression on me. She explained that the LHC was operating well and that it was now tasked with rediscovering the Standard Model in order to determine the machine's standing to go on and produce new physics. For some reason, these words made me think of AI and my attitude towards returning to university to study it. My goal had become clear; to gain an in-depth knowledge of Artificial Intelligence systems by constructing working examples of commonly used techniques from the ground up.

I'll record my progress on this blog, posting up code examples for the techniques discussed.