Artificial Conversations Spark Insights into the Evolution of Ideas
By Matt Windsor
Philosopher Marshall Abrams is designing a digital simulation of the flow of ideas among individuals that leads to cultural change.
In a small office in UAB’s Humanities Building, philosopher Marshall Abrams, Ph.D., is hosting a heated debate about the origins of life. The nine participants share their opinions rapid-fire, completing several hundred conversations every minute. Nevertheless, not a word is spoken; all the action is happening on Abrams’s computer screen. Welcome to philosophy’s digital era.
Above: a representation of the neural networks inside one "person" in the simulation.
Abrams is building a computer-based simulation of cultural change, the flow of ideas among individuals that exerts a powerful shaping force on a society’s guiding values. “Meteorologists want to understand the local changes that affect large-scale weather patterns,” Abrams says. “Social scientists want to do the same thing with cultural change. But just like the weather, it is very subtle and complicated. I’m trying to see what a digital model can add.”
Lauren Goodwin Slaughter (Poetry) is working on her first collection of poems, A Lesson in Smallness. She says of this work, “My poems explore the way our identities can be symbolically expressed in seemingly benign objects and experiences—a trip to the salon, a high-tech mixer, a county fair ribbon, an ultrasound. These poems are particularly interested in taking a sometimescritical, sometimes-celebratory look at how my own relatively new roles in the domestic sphere coincide with the most esoteric human experiences.”
She will also begin a new series of poems responding to the tornadoes that struck her home state of Alabama last year. Ms. Slaughter received her B.A. from Kenyon College, her M.A. from the University of Montana, and her M.F.A from the University of Alabama. Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Chariton Review, Hunger Mountain, among others, and she has received fellowships from Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Vermont Studio Center.
Ms. Slaughter teaches at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She hopes to take a leave of absence next year, use her Writer’s Award for childcare and living expenses, and focus on these two poetry collections and a novel-in-progress. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
College of Arts & Sciences Promotes Hands-on Learning of Digital Literacy with New Digital Media Commons
More than 1.5 billion people are connected to the Internet, according to Intel, which projects that number to double by the end of 2015. There are more than 26 million iPhone users in the United States and more than 43 million Android users, says ComScore, a global leader in measuring the digital world.
And while it’s hard to find one definitive source, the general consensus is that worldwide, there are more than 5 billion feature phones, 500 million smart phones and 60 million tablets and e-readers. And all of these numbers? They’re trending up as new products and software continue to hit the marketplace at a frenetic pace.
Yes, the digital world is alive and kicking, and UAB’s College of Arts & Sciences is aggressively embracing it with hands-on learning of digital literacy, citizenship and skills through the creation of the Digital Media Commons — an open resource lab and corresponding media classroom for faculty, staff and students.
Mobile device experts estimate that payments using Near Field Communication-equipped cellphones will account for $240 billion in spending worldwide in 2012 and more than $670 billion by 2015. But many researchers are concerned that the current systems are insecure and vulnerable to attack by criminals. Researchers at theUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham have created a verification mechanism that will eliminate the security weaknesses of NFC — a form of radio-frequency identification, or RFID — and help prevent theft of personal and financial information from mobile devices.
Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., is director and founder of UAB’s Security and Privacy In Emerging Computing and Networking Systems research group, better known as SPIES. His team developed software that can determine the distance between a valid transaction reader and a valid NFC phone, thus preventing “ghost and reader” attacks, also known as “mafia fraud” attacks.
In these attacks, a fraudster intercepts a consumer’s account information during a legitimate transaction (at a restaurant, for instance) and relays it to a confederate making a purchase at a different location (such as a jewelry store). The consumer’s account is charged for both items; by the time the fraud is revealed the criminals have escaped. Researchers have previously demonstrated the feasibility of such attacks against the “chip-and-PIN” credit cards used extensively in Europe.
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