Author: Mitchell Timin

Posted: 02/16/2004

This article is the second in a series about the members of the Annevolve project.

ANNEvolve has gone through several successful releases and has also moved up to a top 25 ranking on Sourceforge in the Artificial Intelligence area. So, who has led this project to where it is today? ... Mitchell Timin, a guy with a Ph.D that learned he could think for himself, not to mention he had a little bit of spare time on his hands.

The following is an interview between ANNEvolve's founder and leader Mitchell Timin and Mike Livsey.

The big question...what do you hope to accomplish with the ANNEvolve project?

There are several purposes, but the main one is to give me something to do in my spare time. I'm bored with the most common ways of spending spare time, I need something challenging and creative. Besides that I hope to advance the state of the art a little bit. A bit of recognition is nice also.

Why use open source for this accomplishment?

I prefer to work with others, it is satisfying, and it motivates me. Also, I need to have an audience for my work. I feel like some kind of artist, and software is my medium. SourceForge provides the easiest way of finding collaborators and making my work available.

What do you see as the future of ANNs? Where can you see all of this research taking us?

I see ANN research as helping to understand how biological brains work. In addition ANNs are useful in some practical problems, and I see that area expanding as well. Someday there will be hardware ANNs that will be useful. I think neuroevolution will eventually have a much wider area of application than it does today.

How long have you been involved with ANNs and how did your involvement start? Where did your interest come from?

I have been involved with ANNs for one year this month, although I had heard about them 20 years ago. At that time I had no understanding about how they worked.

What is your background? Did you happen to stumble on a book about Neural Networks and start coming up with your own programs or did you go through some sort of training like a Ph.D.?

I do have a Ph.D., but it's in Aerospace Engineering. I didn't learn about neural nets in school, but they taught me that a Ph.D. can learn on his own. I did stumble on a book, from which I learned some basic concepts. The book is "Blondie24" by David Fogel. It's about using an ANN as the board evaluator for a checker playing program. This book provided my initial motivation; it got me quite excited about ANN software.

Were you involved with RARS (Robot Auto Racing Simulator) back in 1995? Can you tell us a little about this program?

Well, yes; I invented it. I'm the founder of RARS, and I wrote the first several versions of the software, and the first couple of robots. I have always liked competitions, and racing, so when I got the idea for RARS it was very exciting for me. I almost didn't do it though, because it seemed very difficult at first. RARS is a competition for programmers, who have to write a C function which controls a simulated racing car. There is a physics model which is applied to each of the cars. The robot pilots steer the cars and apply power and braking. There is a display showing the race.

Are you still involved with RARS?

No. I got tired of it after a couple of years. Several other programmers have continued development. They have greatly improved the display, and made many other improvements.

What's your day job? How does your "day job" affect your ANNEvolve life and vice versa?

ANNEvolve is my day job. I'm retired and living off social security and some investments, so I don't need to earn a salary. No one would hire me anyway, I'm too old.

Do you have any quirky habits? Let us in on one of them.

I probably have several, but they don't seem quirky to me. I sleep with my dog; is that quirky? :)

Can you tell us anything about your normal life? Like what do you do when you are not working? Of course, for some us, work may be normal and everything else is just weird...

I live with my dog and I have to spend a lot of time taking care of us. Like shopping, cooking, eating, washing, walking, sleeping, etc. That takes a lot of time. Also, I believe I need to exercise regularly in order to feel good, so I do various kinds of exercise, like swimming and walking and playing squash. I also play Go, the board game.

Where are you from and where are you now?

I was raised in Miami Beach, Florida, a very long time ago. I have lived in Pennsylvania, California, Costa Rica, Europe, Nevada, and I'm now in Victoria, BC, Canada.

The projects on ANNEvolve have gone through several release stages, how do you feel about the progress that is being made?

I am amazed! When I started working with neuroevolution a year ago, I was not sure I could accomplish anything, nor find anyone to work with me. Rex is an old friend and he and I had been discussing some joint projects, but initially he did not share my enthusiasm for neuroevolution. Later he came onboard to help out in various areas. I love having our great website; I think we owe a great debt to Ryan Tetter for creating it.

Do you enjoy working with the other people on this project? Do you feel like this project has the skills and leadership necessary to carry it through to the end?

I enjoy working with the other people. Leadership is our weak point; I'm the leader and my leadership skill is minimal. However, we have some good people who don't need great leadership.

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