Programming by Imitation and AGM

Oxford e-Research Centre

11 Oct 2018
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Dr Edmund Furse, Managing Director, Imitation Ltd

Allowing novices to control their computer has been a long standing goal of computer science. One way of doing this is programming by imitation, The Imitate system provides an interactive environment for the user to build a project like many other systems. It also provides tools to draw graphics, animation and browse the web. In addition it provides a wealth of procedures that allow the user to manipulate text, graphics and other objects. In this manner Imitate provides a rich environment to process data, rather like a glorified calculator. Every action that the user performs can be recorded, and with an AI model of human imitation learning, this provides the ability to synthesise a procedure from a sequence of actions. Imitate can then build an app to directly run on the user’s computer. Imitate allows novices to program a computer with no knowledge of programming and provides a rich environment for others to be more productive, imitate can also combine different examples to synthesise a conditional, and automatically recognise loops, and is thus able to synthesise a Turing machine. However modern development systems provide a much richer environment than just the ability to do pencil and paper calculations, and the talk will consider what is required in a modern “complete” development system, and the trade-off between simplicity and power. Imitate aims to be easier to use than MIT”s Scratch, and much more general purpose.

Edmund has worked in AI and Cognitive Science for over 30 years in the Universities of Warwick, Sheffield and Glamorgan. He developed the Mathematics Understander (MU) system which was capable of understanding university level mathematics texts. Out of this work came research into learning by imitation, first in a study of long division and matrix manipulation, and finally a general computational model of human imitation learning.

AGM Agenda

  1. Welcome
  2. Apologies for Absence
  3. Minutes of the Last AGM (see below)
  4. Chairman’s Report
  5. Treasurer’s Report
    • review of income & expenditure against Budget
    • explanation of next year’s Budget
  6. Election of the Committee
  7. AOB
    • items for inclusion in AOB should be notified to the Chair more than 3 days prior to the AGM

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As part of our endeavour to reach out to the community, we try each Christmas to include a wider and younger audience. We advertised this evening as a fun family event, suitable for 10+. There were 46 attendees of whom 15 were children mostly in the 11 to 16 age group. It was a resounding success, with children, adults, novices and experts alike enjoying the various activities on offer. All feedback at the end of the evening was excellent.

The evening had a computing bias, of course, and was based around the BBC Micro:bit. This is a small microcontroller – it has a pixilated ‘screen’ on the front made of 25 LEDs. Two buttons you can use to control it and loads of other interesting features. In an ambitious program, up to one million BBC Micro:bits have been delivered free to 11 years olds in schools in England, Scotland and Wales.

Science Oxford hosted us at their Oxford centre, we had The Pod and a basement area. Three members of their staff provided the backbone of the activities.

In The Pod area we had the Micro:bit challenge, the Micro:bit needed a bit of simple coding to bring it to life. This was very popular with adults too. There was a separate raffle for a Micro:bit for an adult and a child. We had an evil competition – for experienced coders, a Micro:bit had been programmed to broadcast a Christmas message, the challenge was to code a Micro:bit as a receiver and decode from Morse code. The most ‘elegant’ code won a commemoration BCS mug. And a treasure trail, picking up key words distributed around the two floors. This was really for children but adults took part also to gain a raffle ticket to win a commemoration mug.

In the basement was the robotics obstacle course. A robotic car, built from a kit, with a pre-programmed Micro:bit in the car and a Micro:bit as the hand held controller. The seemingly simple course was in the shape of a Christmas tree, laid out on the floor with presents as obstacles, the objective was to get to the star as quickly possible with time penalties for mishaps. There was a practice slope. A young girl won the prize, a robot car kit. There were a set of screens for people to work out how to programme the two Micro:bits to control the robotic car. That was very busy too.

Another activity in the basement was to design, on paper, an amusing Micro:bit animation. The winner designed a twinkling star and was awarded a commemorative mug.

A buffet, with mulled wine for the adults, was served in the reception area.

Science Oxford had spare kits and Micro:bits available for sale and did a brisk trade.