Using Stochastic Processes to Help Humanize Artificial Intelligence

In developing examples for my book on HTML5 Canvas (HTML5 Canvas for Dummies) I experimented with using stochastic processes to improve the realism of an animated displays. Early versions of the displays appeared rigid and artificial. Adding stochastic (random) variations brought the displays closer to real life and made them much more fun to watch.

Stochastic processes are already important to AI. Stochastic Gradient Descent combined with Backpropagation is used to iteratively modify data values passed between neural network nodes in order to minimize the error between the output of the neural network and the correct/true result.

Recently, I've explored whether stochastic techniques can be used to help humanize AI. Humans are not robots. We don't mindlessly pursue objectives without variation from a given path. A more human-like AI would certainly make the man-machine interface more pleasant to deal with than a purely robotic one. There are certainly AI applications where we don't want these kind of random variations taking place ... in autonomous vehicles for example. 

You can experiment with one of my displays that employs stochastic processes ... click here to see it in action - once it's started, click control to see the variables you can modify using your keyboard.

Software Components Overview

Below is a list of links to and brief descriptions of common software components. It's useful to keep these in mind and reference them during software design as a shorthand for code that will be written to implement the design. Implementing a component could involve just a few or many lines of code.

A suggested way to use these components in solving/coding a computing problem is to include them using a Separation of Concerns design pattern folded into what I call Layered Logic Problem Solving that includes these steps:

  1. Describe in words the problem to be solved. This might include references to software components listed below. You might also include solution acceptance criteria, possibly in the form of formal acceptance tests.
  2. Draw a block diagram of the main problem solution pieces. For more complex problems, other types of diagrams can be used.
  3. Annotate the block diagram with references to components such as those below.
  4. Code the solution in your chosen programming language.

Communications

  • Client-Server Architecture: components include:
  • HTTP Requestindicates the desired action to be performed on an identified resource - actions include: 
    • GET: retrieve data
    • HEAD: retrieve without response body
    • POST: create new subordinate data
    • OPTIONS: retrieve supported actions
    • PUT: create/replace data
    • DELETE: delete the resource
    • CONNECT: convert connection to TCP/IP tunnel, usually to facilitate HTTPS SSL
  • Internet Protocol Suite:
    • Layers: Application/Transport/Internet/Link
    • Levels: Send/Receive, Controls/Routing, Values/Translations
  • Firewall: monitor/control of incoming/outgoing traffic
  • JSON: JavaScript Object Notation, Human Readable, Attribute-Value Pairs, Java JsonObject
  • Load Balancer: distributes workload across computing resources
  • Message: data sent across processes
  • Network: allows computers to exchange data
  • Protocol: Data Formats, Address Formats, Address Mapping, Routing, Error Detection, Acknowledgements, Sequence Control, Flow Control
  • REST: Representational State Transfer, Stateless, Client-Server, JSON data
  • Socket: endpoint of a connection across a computer network

Data

Algorithms & Processes

Objects

  • Class: object template
  • Container: collection of other objects
  • Design Patterns: reusable solutions to common software problems  
  • Object Oriented Design Patternsreusable solutions to common object oriented software problems
  • Generics: specify type or method to operate on objects
  • Cloud Computing: internet based computing that provides shared processing resources
  • Interface : all abstract methods
  • Mutability: mutable, immutable, strong vs. weak
  • Objects: variables, data structure or function referenced by an identifier
  • OOD: uses inheritance, abstraction, polymorphism, encapsulation, other design patterns

Views

  • Ajax: groups of technologies for client-side asynchronous web applications
  • Android Fragments: UI segmenting, own lifecycle, FragmentManager
  • HTML5 Canvas:  bitmap, javascript
  • CSS:  describes the presentation of information
  • HTML:  head, body, div, script
  • Widget: simple, easy to use applicator
  • XML: markup language that defines a set of rules for encoding documents

Working with Java Lists

As shown in the diagram below, there are three major Java class groups used for working with lists: Lists (such as List, ArrayList, LinkedList, AbstractList, Stack and Vector), Iterators (Iterator and ListIterator) and Collections. Together, these classes and their methods provide a wide spectrum options for list construction, examination and manipulation. For an example of using these classes, look here.

Android Job Interview Topics

Because Android contains an extremely large number of Classes and Methods, it's impossible to hold all of the syntax and details in your head. For this reason, I've found that Android interview questions tend to be more conceptual in nature. For example, you might be asked how you'd approach a given problem using Android and Java constructs.

As you study the commonly used interview topics below, try to retain the main ideas and some relevant details. 

Android Fragments Overview

Android Fragments provide a mechanism to create modular sections of an Activity. You can see how Fragments fit into the overall Android structure in the blog post Android App Major Elements. You can see an example of Fragment use in the blog post Android Fragments.

Fragments provide a couple of significant benefits for Apps:

  • Fragments facilitate App adaptation to various screen sizes and dimensions. 
  • Fragments have their own life cycle that can be used to implement unique behavior for different App Fragments.

Below is an overview of Fragments and the Android elements they interact with for Fragment control.

Activity (Main)

The main Activity of an app uses the setContentView() method to establish a View.

Activity (for Fragment)

Activities can start and be started by Fragments.

View

The View class represents the basic building block for user interface components. A View occupies a rectangular area on the screen and is responsible for drawing and event handling. View is the base class for widgets, which are used to create interactive UI components (buttons, text fields, etc.). Views can be accessed via their ids or from the Root View.

Root View

The Root View is the base of the tree for all the Views for an app. It can be referenced using android.R.id.content.  

Layout (XML)

Layout XML can be used to define Views. When an app is compiled, the XML definitions are used to create View details. Note that this can include Fragment properties. If a Layout that includes a Fragment specification is used by the Activity setContentView() method, that Fragment will be automatically started by the Android operating system.

Fragment

A Fragment is a piece of an application's user interface or behavior that can be placed in an Activity. Sub classes of Fragment include: PreferenceFragment, DialogFragment and ListFragment.

Fragment Manager

The FragmentManager class is an Interface for interacting with Fragment objects.

Fragment Transaction

The FragmentTransaction class is used for performing Fragment operations.

Android App Major Elements

There are many elements that can be included in an Android app. It's helpful to see how these are clustered and interact, as shown in the chart below. Only major elements are shown. The Android Developers Website provides details on the full set of app elements.

The minimum required elements are shown with a red dot. An app with just these elements wouldn't be very useful, but you can see that there are many optional elements that can be added for a variety of functions. 

Intent Messaging

Intents are used to request an action from an app component. Intents are detected and acted upon by Broadcast Receivers.

Activities

Activities manage the Displays that app users see. Fragments are modular sections of an Activity that, among other uses, facilitate app adaptation to various screen sizes and dimensions.

User Interface

The User Interface includes a variety of pre-built elements that facilitate constructing screen displays, including: View, Control, Dialog, Notification, Setting, Action Bar, Menu and Toast.

Services

Services perform long-running operations in the background and do not provide a User Interface.

Asynchronous Operations

These elements facilitate asynchronous operations that protect the UI thread from undesirable delays. Loaders make it easy to asynchronously load data in an Activity or Fragment. AsyncTask allows performing background operations and publishing results on the UI thread without having to manipulate threads and/or handlers.

Data, Devices and Sensors

These elements facilitate the access to Data, Devices and Sensors. Connectivity provides access to devices and the Internet.  Content Providers can optionally be used to access databases and internal/external files. Sensors include: GPS, network location, accelerometer, gyroscope and more. 

Reference Elements

These elements are essential for app operation. Libraries provide access to compiled code from Google and other sources. Access to the user Display is built into the operating system. The Manifest include essential information about the app and its elements. Resources include: Layouts, Values and Drawables. Shared Preferences are use to store key-value pairs that act as global variables for the app.

Algorithm Design

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure for performing calculations. Types of algorithms include:

Sometimes it's hard to know where to start in designing an algorithm for a task at hand. Below are some elements to consider during algorithm design.

Performance

Consider factors such as the average and worst case performance of your algorithm.

Design Patterns

Find a code design pattern that fits the problem you're solving.

Data Structure

The data structure you choose should reflect your data access needs.

Database Structure

A database is often a good data storage choice when the data needs to be accessed using a variety of search, sort and display options.

Data Sort

There's a large selection of sorting algorithms to select from. See which one most closely fits the nature of your data and access requirements.

Android Broadcast Receiver Concepts and Sample App

This video, part of my Android Quick Code Access series of posts, explains Android Broadcast Receivers.  It's from my course Learning Android App Programming published by InfiniteSkills.

Here's the Java code for the example...

import android.app.Activity;
import android.content.BroadcastReceiver;
import android.content.Context;
import android.content.Intent;
import android.content.IntentFilter;
import android.os.Bundle;
import android.widget.Toast;

// Declare main activity for the application.
public class Main extends Activity {

    // Instantiate BroadcastReceiver.
    private BroadcastReceiver receiver = new BroadcastReceiver(){

        // Define actions to be taken when broadcast is received.
        @Override
        public void onReceive(Context c, Intent i) {
			
            // Do the work of the BroadcastReceiver.
            // In this example, a message is toasted to the user.
            Toast.makeText(getBaseContext(), 
                           "ACTION_TIME_TICK intent received.", 
                           Toast.LENGTH_LONG)
                           .show();
        }
    };
    // Initialize the user interface in the onCreate method
    // of the main activity.
    @Override  
    public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {  
        super.onCreate(savedInstanceState);  
        setContentView(R.layout.main);  
    } 
    // Register the receiver with its filter.
    @Override  
    protected void onResume() {  
        this.registerReceiver(receiver, filter);  
        super.onResume();  
    } 
    // Unregister the receiver when the application is paused.
    @Override  
    protected void onPause() {  
        this.unregisterReceiver(receiver);  
        super.onPause();  
    }  
}

Android Content Provider/SQLite Methods

There are a number of key methods for accessing data via an Android Content Provider or directly on the underlying SQLite database.  The table below summarizes the method parameters and return values. The graphic is from the video training course Learning Android App Programming.

Big O Notation

Big O notation is a way to characterize the time or resources needed to solve a computing problem.  It's particularly useful in comparing various computing algorithms under consideration. Below is a table summarizing Big O functions. The four most commonly referenced and important to remember are:

  • O(1)              Constant access time such as the use of a hash table.
  • O(log n)        Logarithmic access time such as a binary search of a sorted table.
  • O(n)              Linear access time such as the search of an unsorted list.
  • O(n log(n))   Multiple of log(n) access time such as using Quicksort or Mergesort.

Sorting Algorithms

Before delving into the large variety of sorting algorithms, it's important to understand that there are simple ways to perform sorts in most programming languages. For example, in Java, the Collections class contains a sort method that can be implemented as simply as:

Collections.sort(list);

where list is an object such as an ArrayList. Some aspects of the Java sort() method to note are:

  • You can also use the Java Comparator class methods to implement your own list item comparison functions for specialized sorting order needs.
  • The Java Collections class (plural) is different than the Collection class (singular).
  • Which sorting algorithm (see below) is used in the Collections.sort() implementation depends on the implementation approach chosen by the Java language developers. You can find implementation notes for Java Collections.sort() here. It currently uses a modified merge sort that performs in the range of Big O O(n log(n)).

If you don't want to use a built-in sort function and you're going to implement your own sort function, there's a large list of sorting algorithms to choose from.  Factors to consider in choosing a sort algorithm include:

  • Speed of the algorithm for the best, average and worst sort times. Most algorithms have sort times characterized by Big O functions of O(n), O(n log(n)) or O(n^2).
  • The relative importance of the best, average and worst sort times for the sort application.
  • Memory required to perform the sort.
  • Type of data to be sorted (e.g., numbers, strings, documents).
  • The size of the data set to be sorted.
  • The need for sort stability (preserving the original order of duplicate items).
  • Distribution and uniformity of values to be sorted.
  • Complexity of the sort algorithm.

For a comparison of sorting algorithms based on these and other values see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorting_algorithm#Comparison_of_algorithms.

Here's a quick reference for the major algorithms:

  • Exchange Sorts: based on swapping items
    • Bubble sort: for each pair of indices, swap the items if out of order, loop for items and list.
    • Cocktail sort: variation of bubble sort, passes alternately from top to bottom and bottom to top.
    • Comb sort: variation of bubble sort, selective swap of values
    • Gnome sort: also called the stupd sort, moves values back to just above a value less than it
    • Odd-even sort: developed originally for use with parallel processors, examines odd-even pairs and orders them, alternates pairs until list is ordered
    • Quicksort: divide list into two, with all items on the first list coming before all items on the second list.; then sort the two lists. Repeat. Often the method of choice. One of the fastest sort algorithms
  • Hybrid Sorts: mixture of sort techniques
    • Flashsort: Used on data sets with a known distribution, estimates used for where an element should be placed
    • Introsort: begin with quicksort and switch to heapsort when the recursion depth exceeds a certain level
    • Timsort: adaptative algorithm derived from merge sort and insertion sort. 
  • Insertion sorts: builds the final sorted array one item at a time
    • Insertion sort: determine where the current item belongs in the list of sorted ones, and insert it there
    • Library sort: like library shelves, space is created for new entries within groups such as first letters, space is removed at end of sort
    • Patience sorting: based on the solitaire card game, uses piles of "cards"
    • Shell sort: an attempt to improve insertion sort
    • Tree sort (binary tree sort): build binary tree, then traverse it to create sorted list
    • Cycle sort: in-place with theoretically optimal number of writes
  • Merge sortstakes advantage of the ease of merging already sorted lists into a new sorted list
    • Merge sort: sort the first and second half of the list separately, then merge the sorted lists
    • Strand sort: repeatedly pulls sorted sublists out of the list to be sorted and merges them with the result array
  • Non-comparison sorts
    • Bead sort: can only be used on positive integers, performed using mechanics like beads on an abacus
    • Bucket sort: works by partitioning an array into a number of buckets, each bucket is then sorted individually using the best technique, the buckets are then merged
    • Burstsort: used for sorting strings, employs growable arrays
    • Counting sort: sorts a collection of objects according to keys that are small integers
    • Pigeonhole sort: suitable for sorting lists of elements where the number of elements and number of possible key values are approximately the same, uses auxiliary arrays for grouping values
    • Postman sort: variant of Bucket sort which takes advantage of hierarchical structure
    • Radix sort: sorts strings letter by letter
  • Selection sorts: in place comparison sorts
    • Heapsort: convert the list into a heap, keep removing the largest element from the heap and adding it to the end of the list
    • Selection sort: pick the smallest of the remaining elements, add it to the end of the sorted list
    • Smoothsort
  • Other
  • Unknown class

 

Android WebView Combines Native and HTML5 Code

A battle is raging over whether native mobile code apps, such as those for Android and iOS, are a better approach than using HTML5.  Each has its advantages.

There is, though, a way to blend the two in order to take advantages of the benefits each has to offer.  The graphic below shows the anatomy of an app that displays an HTML5 Canvas on an Android screen display.

This app is from the Learning Android App Programming video training course.

The HTML5 Canvas animation displayed is from HTML5 Canvas for Dummies.

You can see the HTML5 Canvas animation by clicking here. To see the JavaScript code that generates the animation, right click on the display page and select View Source Code.

Android Bound Services Using Inter Process Communications

Android Service components can be implemented using a number of mechanisms.  If you want your Service to be able to communicate with other applications running in separate processes, using Inter Process Communications (IPC) is one approach.

The diagram below shows the major classes and methods needed in the binding activity and bound service.  The details of this implementation can be found on the Android Developers Web site here on the Bound Services page

In summary, the major classes involved are:

  • Service - Application component for longer-running operations that do not interface directly with the user.
  • ServiceConnection - Interface for monitoring a service.
  • Messenger - Creates a Messenger pointing to a Handler in one process, and handing that Messenger to another process.
  • Message - Description and arbitrary data object that can be sent to a Handler.
  • IBinder - Interface for a remotable object.
  • Handler - allows you to send and process Message and Runnable objects associated with a thread's MessageQueue.

Android/PHP/JQuery RESTful JSON MySQL Client-Server Overview

The title of this blog entry is quite a mouthful.  The purpose is to give a broad overview of the moving parts necessary to implement an application with client mobile and desktop devices that interact with a server database to alter and retrieve data.

I won't define all the classes, methods and acronyms on the graphic as they're easy to look up using an Internet search.  There are other choices that can be made for the details of the implementation, but this should provide a starting point for thinking through the necessary elements.

The communication vehicle for client-server interaction is typically the Internet Protocol Suite.

 

Android Broadcast Receivers

Broadcast Receivers are one of the four basic Android components, along with Activities, Services and Content Providers.  Broadcast Receivers respond to Intents issued by the Android system or Android apps.  It's one way to respond to "things happening" on the user device.

The video below from the training course Learning Android App Programming explains the basics of Broadcast Receivers.

SQL Database Join Operations

It can be challenging to remember the details of all the SQL Join operations.  A convenient way to do this is to use Venn diagrams shown below. For examples of SQL Joins, go here

Commonly used SQL Join operations are:

  • inner join: requires each record in the two joined tables to have matching records.
  • outer join: does not require each record in the two joined tables to have a matching record.

Android Button Listener Code Dissected

Android listeners are the mechanism used to respond to user interaction with a display screen.  Setting up a listener is a very common Android coding task.  Although it can be done with just a few lines of code, it involves a number of elements that must be configured to interact correctly.

The diagram below from the video training course Learning Android App Programming dissects the code to establish a listener for a screen button.

Android Service Methods

Android Services can be configured to run in the same thread as the interface activity or a separate background thread.  The diagram below from the video training course Learning Android App Programming details the methods used to start, stop and send messages to a service.