Algorithm

Procedurally Generating Random Medieval Cities

With procedural content generation, you build data algorithmically rather than manually — think Minecraft worlds, replete with all the terrains and mobs you’d expect, but distributed differently for every seed. A lot of games use algorithms similarly to generate appropriate treasure and monsters based on the level of the character.

Game developer [Oleg Dolya] built a random city generator that creates excellently tangled maps. You select what size you want, and the application does the rest, filling in each ward with random buildings….

MP3 Isn’t Dead

The reports of the MP3 file format’s death have been greatly exaggerated. This past week, news sites around the internet ran stories claiming that the MP3 is dead. This seems to come from a misunderstanding of a press release, and then others trying to play copycat for clicks. So what’s the deal with MP3, and why do people think it died?

A Brief History of the MP3

There are lots of algorithms and techniques to compress and decompress data, which can be confusing for consumers. The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), made up of scientists and engineers from around the world, work together to develop video and audio compression standards for device manufacturers to meet. By ensuring everything uses the same standard, normal people know that their DVD will work in any player (at least in their geographic region).

The first standard released by the group, MPEG-1 (creative!) was used for Video CD and early digital satellite television. It was replaced by MPEG-2, most notably the encoding standard for DVDs. MPEG-3 was never adopted, and MPEG-4 released later and dominated internet video until recently. It is also used on Blu-Rays. Video files encoded to MPEG-4 specifications typically use the .mp4 extension.

While MPEG-1 video is uncommon today, the standard did include something that lives on. MPEG’s standards are divided into parts and layers. MPEG-1 Layer 3 (or MP3) specified a lossy method of compressing and playing back audio. This technique came from work by the Fraunhofer Society, a multidisciplinary research organization based in Germany.

When it was new, MP3 did a much better job of reducing music file size than other compression algorithms. In those days of small hard drives, being able to fit many more songs into less space was a game changer. On top of that, MP3 can scale reasonably well. Users can specify a bitrate for the audio, allowing them to control the tradeoff between size and quality. While low bitrate, 64-128 kbps MP3 files can sound tinny and distorted, high bitrate…

The 21st Century’s Most Important Idea… & Older Natural Algorithmic Forces

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1. “The 21st century will be dominated by algorithms,” says Yuval Harari. That makes “‘algorithm’ arguably the single most important concept in our world.”

2. He’s almost right. Natural algorithms have ruled every century with life in it. He means unnatural algorithms (which have been called “weaponized math“) now matter.

3. Daniel Dennett says, “Darwin discovered the fundamental algorithm of evolution.” Of course Darwin couldn’t have seen natural selection as algorithmic, but technomorphic analogies to our unnatural computers mean we’re beginning to recognize “algorithmic forces.”

4. For instance, Gregory Chaitin says, “the origin of life is really the origin of software,” and “DNA is multibillion-year-old software.”

5. Algorithms are sequences of step-by-step instructions for complex processes (like recipes, or software). They describe how dumber sub-steps compose complex tasks.

6. Evolution’s survival-of-the-fittest algorithm is very loosely “survive, replicate with variation, repeat.”

7. Out of that dumb process-logic arises all the intelligence and complexity of all living systems. Including what Dennett calls “competence without comprehension.”

8. Consider “termite castles” that look like a monumental Gaudí…