Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The IEEE CEC 2007 car racing competition

Finally, we've got the CEC version of the car racing competition up and running. Feel free to participate! Indeed, please participate! We're very eager to have as many participants as possible, using as different approaches as possible to how to develop their controllers. It's OK if you don't win - at least, it's OK for me...

I quote from the mail I just sent out to the CIG mailing last:

The competition is an incrementally evolved version of the competition
run for the Computational Intelligence and Games Symposium in April.
If you participated in that competition, you will be able to adapt
your submission to the new format with minimum effort. Even if you
have never heard of the competition before, the software is designed
to be as easy as possible to get started with.

Some main changes when compared to the CIG version of the conference are:

* A prize of 500 US Dollars is awarded to the winner. This is subject
to the winner being a registered attendant at CEC, and to at least 5
of the competitors registering for CEC.

* The software package and API have been extended to better
accommodate value function based control, and the software comes
complete with examples of temporal difference learners and genetic
programming controllers as well as various types of neural networks
and evolutionary algorithms.

* The submission format has changed in order to make sure that any
competitor (as well as the organizers) can easily download and run any
other competitor's submission.

Apart from that, various bug fixes have been made, and the competition
score method has changed slightly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Me, Myself, I, etc.

It's now three weeks since I handed in my PhD thesis. I'm still trying to find out how to wind down; I don't think I've ever been as exhausted as right after handing it in.

The title of the thesis is "Optimization, Imitation and Innovation: Computational Intelligence and Games". It contains the experimental sections of most of the papers I've published so far (I had to omit the Sudoku ones to keep the thesis focused, and also to keep the length down - it is already quite a massive heap of paper). It also contains a number of background chapters situating my research in the context of evolutionary robotics and of game AI, and trying to define some sort of taxonomy of apporaches to computational intelligence and games.

I will of course make it available for download from my home page, but not until I've finished my corrections, which will be issued when I've had my viva, which I really hope will take place in early September. Oh yes, and I need to pass the viva as well. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, if you're interested in a copy of the uncorrected version, just mail me.

Assuming I pass my viva, I will then start my new job as a posdoctoral researcher at IDSIA in Lugano, Switzerland, in November. There, I will be working with Juergen Schmidhuber, who is quite famous for his work on reinforcement learning and recurrent neural networks. The place is full of other intelligent people doing great research as well, such as Faustino Gomez doing very interesting work on neuroevolution. That I'm excited about this goes without saying.

GECCO 2007 conference report

A little late, but I figured I should write something about GECCO, even though so many others have.

I was first author on one paper, which I also presented, and second author on two other papers and a poster, so the conference was quite busy for me. Literally. There was a lot of walking through long corridors, and running back through the same corridors after figuring out a wrong turn had been taken somewhere. Let this be my one comment on the organisation of this year's GECCO: UCL is not a good conference venue. Sure, it's in London, and London is one of the world's capitals and very easily accessible through cheap flights and all that, but UCL is the sort of ancient labyrinth where you would expect to bump into a minotaur at any time. Or at least some trolls, or Jeremy Bentham. There was not a single room where all of the conference attendees could fit at once, severely limiting the potential for these all-important random encounters with other researchers, and some of the talk venues seemed to be ten minutes on foot from each other - if you could find them.

I can safely say that the recent SSCI in Hawaii and CEC in Vancouver were better in at least these respects.

But on to the important question: were the papers any good? Better or worse than CEC?

I don't know if I can, and want to, answer that question. As it is physically impossible to see more than perhaps a fifth of the papers, and I didn't even see that many, it's a bit preposterous to have a firm opinion on that. Also, it is a well-known but seldom-talked-loudly-about fact that there is a certain unhealthy animosity between CEC and GECCO, and I don't want to isolate myself from any of these communities. I suppose it's fair to say that the quality is at least comparable but with the conferences having slightly different focus, with somewhat more of e.g. GP and EDA on GECCO, and somewhat more of the stuff I'm most interested in (e.g. games, robotics, neural nets) on CEC.

Then again, one could make the argument that both of these conferences have their entry barriers set a bit too low. That's why I like the GECCO's approach to not treat poster presentations as full papers, in order to enforce more of a separation between contributions of different quality, but I would rather see that the oral acceptance rate was lowered a bit, so that some of the less original studies that were now presented as full papers were accepted as posters instead. Just my 2p.

Oddly enough, I don't know which papers won the best paper awards. They were presented in a session so early in the morning that no-one could reasonably be expected to attend, and the actual awards (as opposed to the nominations) are not to be found on the GECCO homepage. No-one seems to have blogged about it, either. My own picks for two of the tracks would be the paper on HyperNEAT by David D'Ambrosio and Ken Stanley, and the paper on learning noise by Michael Schmidt and Hod Lipson; the first because it is a really cool new idea which might initiate a new paradigm in developmental systems (in addition to the cell chemistry and graph rewriting paradigms), and the second as the general idea might prove to be very useful for modelling the dynamics of physical robotic systems, something I've become rather intereseted in myself recently. As for the other tracks, I didn't see all the best paper nominees, so I don't really have an informed opinion.

Does anyone of you actually know which papers won the awards?