Inside electronic commerce


first_imgAs a boy in northern England, David C. Parkes was upwards of 12 when he got his first computer. It was an Acorn Electron, beige and clunky, with 32KB of memory and one sound channel. He used it to program his own adventure games, set in mythical lands where visitors hunt for objects like gold or keys.Parkes has the keys to his own kingdom now, or at least to an office in Maxwell Dworkin, where he is the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.The academic world he inhabits is not a mythical land exactly, but contains mysteries enough for most of us. Parkes specializes in the arcane mathematical regions where economics and computer science intersect. “If you are working on both,” he said of the two disciplines, “the problems become extremely interesting.”Parkes is an expert on combinatorial auctions, the bidding and buying of complex packages of goods that is one of the hidden algorithmic underpinnings of electronic commerce.Combinatorial auctions inform a hybrid branch of economics and computer science that was pioneered in a 1982 paper about landing slots at airports. What a designer is after in such auctions is “optimization” — getting the most efficiency and value from a decision in which possible choices might number in the billions.It’s no accident that Parkes is interested in operations research too, a branch of complex mathematical decision-making that rose out of Allied logistical demands during World War II. All of his Ph.D. students study it, along with economic theory, computer science, and artificial intelligence.Operations research is all about “making operational decisions about how to allocate resources — for example, how an airline decides to fly which plane where and when,” said Parkes.Such complex decision-making challenges a classical idea in economics: that markets are controlled by rational agents. “Humans are not the rational economic actors we like to theorize about,” said Parkes. So his research aims at designing markets that promote simplicity of interaction for market participants.“We’re in the business of how to solve coordination problems and optimization problems that span boundaries,” he said, and there are many self-interested agents.Parkes wants to construct mechanisms that simplify the decision making that agents have to do. That requires an intersection of computer science and economics. “The Internet itself is at once a computational system and an economic system,” said Parkes of the complex algorithms that underlie modern life. “You have to understand both.”Coordinating decision making in the realm of the Internet may prefigure what he calls “a market of minds.” This future ensemble of connected computer systems would be “like an artificial social system,” said Parkes, and provides structure to the idea that intelligence is modular.Then there is what artificial-intelligence futurists call “singularity,” a point in the future when machines acquire general intelligence that is superior to human intelligence. That may be just 30 years away, said Parkes. “There are all these questions that sound like science fiction.”In the meantime, he added, scientists have to begin thinking of the ethical implications of such shifts.Parkes still has the old Acorn Electron in his home office — a reminder perhaps of the happy accidents that he said have made the past two decades a “whirl” — from a state school in his home village of Holmes Chapel, to an engineering science degree at Oxford University, doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and a post at Harvard since 2001.“I had this very early introduction to computers,” said Parkes, whose father is a physicist and whose mother a one-time dental office radiographer. “But I never thought that it was an academic trajectory.”And yes, there is life outside computer science. Parkes is an avid cook and gardener, and is refurbishing an old Victorian house in Cambridge with his partner, Robert Carr, an artist and architectural enthusiast. “It’s a work in motion,” Parkes said.last_img read more

Ministry of Public Works, Energy and Ports allocated 42% of capital budget


first_img Share Prime Minister Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit. Photo credit: GIS NewsThe Ministry of Public Works, Energy, and Ports is set to received $53.9 million or 42% of the total allocation for the implementation of infrastructure works. This announcement was made by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit as he delivered the 2011/2012 budget in Parliament yesterday.Infrastructural work will continue on all the major road projects including the West Coast Road, the Melville Hall to Pond Casse Road, as well as the Pointe Michel Sea Defence project.“Discussions are ongoing with the Agence Francaise de Development to obtain additional financing for addressing the portions of road at Wet Area and Pagua/Hatton Garden, which have seen increased erosion from the nearby river. Assistance is also being sought, for a more sustainable solution, for the portion of road at Antrim, and for other adjustments to the scope of works, that had to be undertaken to improve the quality of the final product” he said.He also reported that the West Coast Road project is in an advanced stage and can be seen through the improvements in the quality of drive, improved surfaces and extende carriage way.Although there has been a two month delay in the Pointe Michel Sea Defence project primarily due to the procurement of steel reinforcement and concreting of the main seawalls, Government has requested that the contractor C. O. Williams Construction Limited increase their resources in an effort to meet the projected completion date which is 13th March, 2012.Prime Minister Skerrit also reported on the contract signed between the Government of Dominica and Iceland Drilling Company to conduct drilling and Iceland GeoSurvey for well testing activities.“This project is funded by the European Union and the Agence Francaise de Development at cost of $15.0 million and the site preparation for drilling activities and the road access are being undertaken by the Government of Dominica. The contract for the construction of the drill pad has been awarded and site preparation works have begun and will continue in the new financial year” he said.It is anticipated that the drilling of at least two of these wells will be completed in the new fiscal year.Dominica Vibes News 19 Views   no discussions Tweet Sharecenter_img LocalNews Ministry of Public Works, Energy and Ports allocated 42% of capital budget by: – June 30, 2011 Sharing is caring! Sharelast_img read more