Thursday, October 31, 2013

Common Currencies - PSSA abstract

So I have the extreme good fortune to be working on a paper with Prof. David Spurrett on a paper for next year's Philosophical Society of South Africa's annual conference. It's a small piece of a much longer and larger project on how unified motivation is (Prof Spurrett is documenting this project over at his common currencies blog).

Without further ado, here is the abstract - the content isn't entirely fixed just yet, but this is a reasonable outline of what we're trying to achieve.

Distributed control systems and order in action selection.

Blaize Kaye and David Spurrett (UKZN)


There is a commonly held view in the cognitive and behavioural sciences that orderly action selection is best explained by the existence of a determinate psychological system that represents potential or actual outcomes of action along a single dimension of value.

In this paper, we begin by sketching a general version of the argument for a “common currency” for decision making after which we present a potential challenge to this family of arguments posed by work in behaviour-based robotics. Specifically, we look at Rodney Brooks' work on “subsumption architectures”, an approach that has been especially influential within 4EA (embodied, extended, embedded, enactive, affective) approaches to cognitive science and the philosophy of mind.

With the subsumption architecture, Brooks eschews explicit representations and centralised planning in favour of a set of modules, organized into a hierarchy of layers, each of which is more or less independently responsible for implementing one of the agent's goals. Crucially, while these layers do communicate, communication is restricted to extremely simple signalling – for instance, disabling or activating another layer or module.

Robots controlled by subsumption architectures are able to engage in simple, but fairly robust patterns of behaviours. As such, any theory of motivation that posits a unidimensional representation of value will need to address the fact that there exist agents that demonstrate ordered patterns in action selection but whose internal control system is both distributed and anti-representational.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A lesson on character and exposition by Saramago

To leap ahead, by bold suppositions, or by dangerous deductions, or, worse still, by ill-considered guesswork, to what their thoughts were would not, in principle, if we consider how promptly and impudently the heart's secrets are often violated in stories of this kind, would not, as we were saying, be an impossible task, but, since those thoughts will, sooner or later, be expressed in actions, or in words that lead to actions, it seems to us preferable to move on and wait quietly for the actions and words to make those thoughts manifest
--  José Saramago, The Cave

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Testable JavaScript" by Mark Ethan Trostler

While there are a number of JavaScript programming manuals that teach the basics of the language, there is a real need for texts aimed at working JavaScript programmers who would to take take their practice in a more professional direction. "Testable JavaScript" by Mark Ethan Trostler does a fine job of addressing this particular concern. 
The book presents a really nice spread of topics that range from how one's code should be written to maximise readability and maintainability through to automating your workflow.

At the time of writing this review I can heartily recommend the book. The one concern that I have is that some of the specific technologies (for testing, automation, etc.) that Trostler chooses to cover may not age as well as the material that deals with best practices for code composition. 
If the book gets semi-regular updates, this will not be a problem (and this is really a concern with any technology book, but I mention it because some of the information in the book really does seem timeless and it would be a waste if the book wasn't purchased in the future because of the more dated material).

Trostler's book should become a go-to guide for professional JavaScript development.


I review for the O'Reilly Reader Review Program