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Archive for February, 2011

Kevin on Tor about Watson on Jeopardy

Kevin Gold has got two very thought-provoking articles on the jeopardy match-up between human jeopardy champions and IBM’s AI “Watson”, up on Tor’s website. Check them out here and here.

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Tolkien academia for a popular audience

This Washington Post article discusses the story of a Tolkien scholar whose strategy of producing podcasts about Tolkien’s novels for public consumption seems to have won him some success in academia, not to mention a large online following.

The hub of his online activities is a website called The Tolkien Professor, which includes the aforementioned podcast lectures, links to both primary sources and criticism, and information about skype-in office hours.

Aside from the content of his work, Corey Olsen’s career trajectory strikes me as interesting in several respects. It reflects a more-or-less successful bid to make a career of studying genre literature in the academy. It reflects what I view as a commendable effort to reach out of the academy and engage a popular audience with academic research–I would love to see this happen more often, and to be rewarded rather than (at best) tolerated. Finally, of course, it raises the question of college classes being made available free and online–a trend which is extremely exciting, but which is not uncomplicated by questions about the future of academic institutions in a world where higher education costs are skyrocketing. Are universities going to go the way of the newspaper? How should we feel about that if they do?

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Calling all female mad scientists

A friend recently asked on her blog what fictional characters we (her readers) relate to. Two that immediately came to mind for me were Helen Narbonic (from Narbonic) and Agatha Clay (from Girl Genius). Both are female mad scientists from webcomics, which got me wondering what other female mad scientists I might be missing out on. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s List of mad scientists confirms how male-dominated this field is. Though I admittedly only skimmed it, I didn’t see any female mad scientists on the list whose names I recognized other than the above two. Nor have I been able to come up with others off the top of my head (though maybe that’s just due to poor memory/lack of imagination). So, readers, help me out. What other female mad scientists are out there?

(By the way, if you haven’t read them, I highly recommend both Narbonic and Girl Genius. Narbonic is rather slow getting started, but the story and the art both improve tremendously.)

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Four Revolutions

At the intersection of current affairs and computational linguistics, Language Log’s Philip Resnik has written a thought-provoking piece about how events in Egypt are fueling a shift in computational linguistics. He calls it the “social media revolution”, and main idea is that whereas current computation techniques are good at dealing with large, clean data sets (such as newspaper text, which comes in complete sentences, is edited, etc.), future techniques will need to deal with large *messy* data sets such as Twitter posts. In fact, the shift is well underway, and he discusses some of currently relevant applications. It’s a great window into the cutting edge in natural language processing.

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