Neural nets, nodes & nourishment – my first development diary entry

NeuralNetwork.pngI programmed my first Neural Nets in the mid-nineties. They were intended to solve a difficult OCR problem that existing software could not handle.

After much experimentation, I produced a net that recognised the data (a series of digits that were needed to connect the image to a database) correctly, 97% of the time. The other 3%, the system reported as being unreadable. So, from a control point of view, it was 100% accurate.

Alex, (No. 1 Son) was around 12 years old and fascinated by what I was doing. After explaining how it worked, I suggested that he construct and experiment with an example. I thought that would be the last I would hear, but, a few hours later he was showing me a small, trainable, perceptron based,  neural network on his Peacock 486DX, which he had programmed in QBasic.

Doubtless, that was what piqued his interest in all things to do with the dark art of machine intelligence. I say dark, because so much of the programming is undertaken when the sun has set, although, in Manchester the sun is not out so often.

Programming is much more than a job for me; it is a consuming passion. Likewise food, which is more of a consumable passion, and music, which has been a constant companion. In his car-seat Alex used to bop to Mozart (Mo-tart), Hadyn, Beethoven and Bros and the girls favoured singing along to Van-Halen and Rainbow.

Over the last few years the soundtrack to my days and nights at the keyboard has been solo piano music, piano jazz trios and plenty of guitar rock, blues and jazz. These three pastimes, more than anything else, thread their way through our family life, and, in many ways, bind us together and feed our strength.

This blog was originally intended for customers to track the development of   Softology’s new project, Clover Nodes,clovernode which Alex and I are designing and programming together with my Softology co-director Martin Purdy. Writing solely about tech is pretty dull, and reading about it is more dull, or so I’m told,  therefore,  I decided I would wrap it up with writings about food and music, and keep it more of a periodic diary.

Whilst writing, I have a chorizo and bean soup simmering away, and I am listening to some pretty good funk fuelled jazz – Aziza . Nice!
The soup is made from a sliced spicy chorizo, gently fried in onions and garlic with paprikathqoagkgh9 and chilli to taste. Sometimes, I chuck in cumin and/or fennel seeds.

To that I add a couple of chopped up potatoes (adjusted for volume) in similar proportion to butter beans and cannelini beans (or other beans). That is topped up with chicken stock and a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree, and left to simmer for around 30-45 minutes.

I suspect the soup would be pretty good if made with some chicken pieces fried up with the spices. I’ll have to try that soon.

In the nineties, I concluded that neural nets were very much  a solution looking for a problem. There has been a massive increase in processing power since then;  especially, with high performance parallel processing video cards. My graphics card has 3,584 CUDA cores. This is a game changer and, once again questions such as:

  • will computers become more intelligent than their creators
  • will robots take all our jobs, and
  • will computers ever become conscious in some way

have bubbled up into public forums.

These were the questions being asked during the eighties, during the time of Alvey
They are fascinating questions regarding science, philosophy, psychology, society and technology that deserve serious debate, but, right now, my soup is ready; its scent has permeated my office and I’m starving. So … laters!

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