Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Take a chance on chance discovery

I was recently asked to write a foreword for a new volume of papers on chance discovery. In particular, Readings in Chance Discovery, Akinori Abe and Yukio Ohsawa (editors), ISBN 0-9751004-8-3, will soon be published in the International Series on Advanced Intelligence (Series Editors: R. J. Howlett and L. C. Jain) . I wrote the following:

I first became familiar with the term "chance discovery" on a trip to Japan in December 2001. I was invited to give a series of lectures on genetic algorithms and engineering leadership at the Graduate School of Systems Management of Tsukuba University by my good and longtime colleague Takao Terano. One of the hosts for the visit was a relatively new faculty member named Yukio Osawa, and when I arrived, he filled my ears with the glory of chance discovery. Unfortunately, during that first meeting, Dr. Osawa's zeal for chance discovery went in one of my ears and out the other, and if the situation had not changed, this story would have had an uninteresting ending. But Dr. Osawa is nothing if he is not persistent, and he continued to regale me with tales of chance disovery accomplishment, and somehow he got me to come back to Japan and give a tutorial with him merging GAs and CD topics into one program.

At that second meeting, my ears and my mind opened up, and I came to realize the importance of CD as a subject. Simply put, where much work in data-mining makes hay from high probability co-occurences, CD uses a variety of techniques to elevate and study the unlikely. In so doing, chance discovery focuses on phenomena that may be important in the future, on phenomena that may be an underlying and unrecognized cause, or important background phenomena that just plain deserve further exploration and explanation. As a result, chance discovery appears central to better, more mechanistic, understanding of creativity, smart mobs (to use Rheingold's term), and, more generally, the unexplained.

Since that second meeting, I have become a fan and sometimes practitioner of CD and its extensions. My own work on on collaborative systems couples genetic algorithms (regular, interactive, and human-based) with Keygraph chance discovery to help support organizational innovation (see http://www-discus.ge.uiuc.edu/). Chance discovery continues to chug along as a field in Japan, and the current volume's geographical representation shows that CD is becoming (has become?) a
scientific topic without borders.

In short, the current volume advances the state of chance discovery art, in philosophy, in theory, and in practice. For those who are familiar with chance discovery and uses, it is an indispensible guide to where CD research is and is going. To those who are unfamiliar with the topic, I recommend it as an entry point to an important area. Either way, I urge you to pick up this volume read it, use it, and don't be like me and take another eight months to pay attention and get involved.

I mean it. Go read something about chance discovery.

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