Thursday, August 27, 2009

Really Powerful AI: how close is YOUR system?

I read a lot about AI. Many people think AI is, one day, possibly soon, going to achieve a level of competency such that it will revolutionise the planet and destabilise humanity as the only intelligent force. Some people point to a number of identifiable trends in computing, usually trends in computing power, and claim this indicates a progression towards that stage.

Some such people are crackpots, while others are insightful individuals with the knowledge and experience that they should know what they are talking about -- certainly well enough to give a valid and sensible opinion.

However, I suspect that many people aren't directly working on a system which demonstrates such capability or promise.

So here's my question to anyone working in AI (or any related area). How close is the system that you personally work on, right now, to demonstrating the kind of ability which would contribute significantly towards an independent, thinking machine?

Cheers,
-T

Friday, August 21, 2009

A few days of WingIDE; a few years of Eclipse

I thought I would just quickly blog about my experience giving Wing IDE a fair trial, using it exclusively to fix one particular bug in my system. The short version: it's okay. It needs a visual diff.

Okay, so now for the long version. My application is a hybrid Python/C application, with my particular turf being almost exclusively in the Python code. The team has basically adopted Eclipse + PyDev as a kind of default environment, but it's not proscriptive. Eclipse works, there's no doubt about it. It supports pretty much the workflow I want, does a reasonable job of editing, and a reasonable job of communicating with our SVN repository. It's flexible, so I can do C work in it, hook into our ant targets, change the repository and manage multiple repositories. It's popular, so there is a wealth of information on teh internets. On the downside, I find that it's slow, the code folding is flaky (try folding a file, then editing just one method), prone to crashes.

I've long known that Wing IDE exists, and for extra kudos it's written in Python. It seems to be a genuine competitor, and I thought I'd take it for a spin.

The first thing I had to get used to was how it treats projects. It's probably better actually, but different. It creates project files, in which it stores (apparently) a list of files and directories which are included in the project, plus (presumably) various project settings and configuration files. However, it doesn't actually make your directories for you. You have to do that yourself, either during 'save as', or externally and add them to the project. Well, okay, I'll do that. But what's weird is that there's no capacity (that I could find) to create a project from a code repository. Checking the code out is legwork you have to do yourself, before you create the Wing IDE project. Well, okay...

So I did that. Once the project is created, and the directory added, you can then enable version control for the project and then you finally get some GUI help with your repository. However, this is basically where Wing IDE starts to fall down, and unfortunately it's one of the things I ran into first. So, I'll hold off on criticizing this functionality while I talk about the good points.

It's quick and responsive -- much nicer than Eclipse for doing the job of typing out code. Wing IDE is definitely a nicer editing experience.

Its folding is mostly better. It doesn't randomly unfold while you're typing, which is a big win. Unfortunately (for my tastes) it folds all the methods directly next to eachother so there's no whitespace in between. I don't know if I like that, and I'm definitely not used to it. I prefer a gap so I can start typing in between two methods if I want to. But it's a big win over Eclipse.

Its two-pane view is a little better, and again way faster. Eclipse throws a shoe sometimes when you have the same file open in two panes. It would be neat if I could flow one file into a kind of two-column layout with integrated scrolling, but Eclipse doesn't do that either.

Its search is better and easier to use.

In short, if it weren't for the code repository issues, to which I will now return, I'd much prefer Eclipse. So now for the show-stoppers.

In Eclipse, as soon as I change a file, the project browser clearly marks that I have diverged from the latest repository version. Wing doesn't.

In Eclipse, there is a *great* visual diff tool. Wing IDE will just show you the text diff file.

Eclipse has a built-in repository browser. Wing doesn't.

Anyway, I've run out of time to write down any more thoughts, but that was my experience trying out Wing. It needs to be more capable with code repositories before its functionally at the same level as Eclipse. When it gets there, its speed will put it in first place (for me).

-T