Gary Robinson

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Gary Robinson
Gary Robinson.jpg
Education Bard College;Courant Institute[1]
Occupation Computer programmer
Employer Emergent Music LLC[1]
Known for SpamBayes, SpamAssassin, Recommendation engine, Collaborative filtering
Title Chief Technology officer[1]

Gary Robinson is an American software engineer and mathematician[2] and inventor notable for his mathematical algorithms to fight spam.[3] In addition, he patented a method to use web browser cookies to track consumers across different web sites, allowing marketers to better match advertisements with consumers.[4][5] The patent was bought by DoubleClick, and then DoubleClick was bought by Google.[6][7] He is credited as being one of the first to use automated collaborative filtering technologies to turn word-of-mouth recommendations into useful data.[2]

In 2003, Robinson's article in Linux Journal detailed a new approach to computer programming perhaps best described as a general purpose classifier which expanded on the usefulness of Bayesian filtering. Robinson's method used math-intensive algorithms combined with Chi-square statistical testing to enable computers to examine an unknown file and make intelligent guesses about what was in it.[8] The technique had wide applicability; for example, Robinson's method enabled computers to examine a file and guess, with much greater accuracy, whether it contained pornography, or whether an incoming email to a corporation was a technical question or a sales-related question.[9] The method became the basis for anti-spam techniques used by Tim Peters and Rob Hooft of the influential SpamBayes project.[10][11] Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited, undesired bulk messages.[12] SpamBayes assigned probability scores to both spam and ham (useful emails) to guess intelligently whether an incoming email was spam; the scoring system enabled the program to return a value of unsure if both the spam and ham scores were high.[8] Robinson's method was used in other anti-spam projects such as SpamAssassin.[13][14][15] Robinson commented in Linux Journal on how fighting spam was a collaborative effort:

The approach described here truly has been a distributed effort in the best open-source tradition. Paul Graham, an author of books on Lisp, suggested an approach to filtering spam in his on-line article, “A Plan for Spam”. I took his approach for generating probabilities associated with words, altered it slightly and proposed a Bayesian calculation for dealing with words that hadn't appeared very often ... an approach based on the chi-square distribution for combining the individual word probabilities into a combined probability (actually a pair of probabilities—see below) representing an e-mail. Finally, Tim Peters of the Spambayes Project proposed a way of generating a particularly useful spamminess indicator based on the combined probabilities. All along the way the work was guided by ongoing testing of embodiments written in Python by Tim Peters for Spambayes and in C by Greg Louis of the Bogofilter Project. The testing was done by a number of people involved with those projects. — Gary Robinson, 2003.[11]

In 1996, Robinson patented a method to help marketers focus their online advertisements to consumers. He explained:

As far as I have been able to tell, it's the very first patent ... to mention using web browser cookies to track consumers across different web sites and build a profile of their interests in order to determine what ads to show them ... There was an aspect in the way browser cookies were implemented that allowed them to be used ... I hired programmers to do the programming to actually test it ... the hypothesis turned out to be correct.

— Gary B. Robinson, 2014

In 2010, Robinson was the chief technology officer at FlyFi, an online music service owned by Maine-based[16] Emergent Discovery which uses his anti-spam programming techniques along with collaborative filtering technologies to help make music recommendations to web users.[17][18] His blog Gary Robinson's Rants has been quoted by others in the computer and online music industries[17] and cited by academic papers.[12][19][20] Robinson helped develop recommendation engine technology which applies high-power mathematical techniques using software algorithms to have a computer guess intelligently about what a consumer might like.[21] For example, if a consumer likes music by artists such as the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the Talking Heads, the computer software will match these preferences with a much larger dataset of other consumers who also like those three artists but which cumulatively has much greater musical knowledge than the single consumer. Accordingly, the computer will find music that the user might like but hasn't been exposed to, and therefore hopefully offer intelligent recommendations, in a process which has come to be called knowledge management.[2] But the mathematics behind such comparisons can become quite complex and involved. Robinson studied mathematics at Bard College and graduated in 1979 and studied further at the Courant Institute of New York University.[1] In the 1980s, Robinson worked on an entrepreneurial start-up dating service called 212-Romance which used similar computer algorithms to match singles romantically.[2][22] The New York City-based voice mail dating service created community-based automated recommendations and used collaborative filtering technologies which Robinson developed further in other capacities.


  1. ^ a b c d "Gary Robinson". Google. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. I make the music recommendation technology at FlyFi — Where I grew up Bronxville, NY — Companies I've worked for Athenium, OLI Systems, Lambda Technology — Schools I've attended Bard College; Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences 
  2. ^ a b c d Matthew French, May 20, 2002, Boston Business Journal, Romantic beginnings have worldwide effect, Retrieved August 6, 2016, "...Gary Robinson ... a mathematician by training ... first automated collaborative filtering applications...."
  3. ^ "SpamBayes Project Page". SpamBayes. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Gary Robinson provided a lot of the serious maths and theory, as well as his essay on "how to do it better" (see the background page for a link). 
  4. ^ US 5918014 A, Application number US 08/774,180, Publication date Jun 29, 1999, Filing date Dec 26, 1996, Automated collaborative filtering in world wide web advertising, "... This invention combines techniques for: determining the subject's community, and determining which ads to show ... to determine whether a given individual should be in the subject's community is gleaned from the individual's activities ... Means are provided to track a consumer's activities ... e.g. by means of "cookies"...."
  5. ^ Patent Buddy, Gary B Robinson Inventor, Patent years: 1999, 2001, "...Automated collaborative filtering in world wide web advertising..."
  6. ^ TechCrunch, Apr 13, 2007 by Michael Arrington, Breaking: Google Spends $3.1 Billion To Acquire DoubleClick, Accessed March 12, 2014, "...About 20 minutes ago Google announced that they have agreed to acquired DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in cash..."
  7. ^ Bill Slawski, Apr 14, 2007, SEO by the Sea, Doubleclick + Google: Looking at Some of the Doubleclick Patent Filings, Accessed March 12, 2014, " ad box showing on a page that displays different advertisements to users over time, based upon a recommendations system. ..."
  8. ^ a b "Background Reading". SpamBayes project. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Sharpen your pencils, this is the mathematical background (such as it is).* The paper that started the ball rolling: Paul Graham's A Plan for Spam.* Gary Robinson has an interesting essay suggesting some improvements to Graham's original approach.* Gary Robinson's Linux Journal article discussed using the chi squared distribution. 
  9. ^ Ben Kamens, Fog Creek Publishing, Bayesian Filtering: Beyond Binary Classification , Retrieved February 7, 2015, "...Of these, Robinson’s technique ... borrowed from R.A. Fischer’s combination of probabilities into a chi-squared distribution, has been extensively tested and is used by the most successful filters, including SpamBayes. Robinson provides ample theoretical justification for this improvement in practical accuracy over the original filters..."
  10. ^ T.A Meyer and B Whateley (2010-09-18). "SpamBayes: Effective open-source, Bayesian based, email classification system.". Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand. Retrieved 2010-09-18. G. Robinson, "Spam Detection", [online] 2002, ... G. Robinson, "Instructions for Training to Exhaustion", (Gary' Longer Rants), [online] 2004, (see page 8) 
  11. ^ a b Gary Robinson (Mar 1, 2003). "A Statistical Approach to the Spam Problem: Using Bayesian statistics to detect an e-mail's spamminess.". Linux Journal. Retrieved 2010-09-18. This article discusses one of many possible mathematical foundations for a key aspect of spam filtering—generating an indicator of “spamminess” from a collection of tokens representing the content of an e-mail. 
  12. ^ a b David Anderson (September 2006). "Statistical Spam Filtering — EECS595, Fall 2006" (PDF). Google. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Gary Robinson proposes an improved method for calculating the word value of a token W. His method modifies Graham’s by adding a confidence factor to scale the word value by the amount of historical data that is available for the token. Let N be the... 
  13. ^ The SpamAssassin Project. "train SpamAssassin's Bayesian classifier". SpamAssassin website. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Gary Robinson's f(x) and combining algorithms, as used in SpamAssassin 
  14. ^ "Credits — the Perl Programming Language — Algorithms". Perl. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Algorithms: The Bayesian-style text classifier used by SpamAssassin's BAYES rules is based on an approach outlined by Gary Robinson. Thanks, Gary! 
  15. ^ "Installation". Ubuntu manuals. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Gary Robinson’s f(x) and combining algorithms, as used in SpamAssassin 
  16. ^ "Contact "Emergent Discovery"". Emergent Discovery. 2010-10-14. Retrieved 2010-10-14. Emergent Discovery — 565 Congress Street — Suite 201 —Portland, ME 04101 
  17. ^ a b Kevin Dangoor (April 30, 2002). "Gary Robinson's Three Steps to Freedom". BlueSkyOnMars. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Gary Robinson, the head of Emergent Music has an article on his blog about the Three Steps To Freedom. His opinion on this definitely counts, because EM might very well be the future of music. I’m going to chime in with my thoughts here and copy them over to EM’s forum as well. 
  18. ^ "Management Team". FlyFi. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Gary Robinson, CTO, is both a musician and leader in the "recommendation engine" field. Gary’s background reflects his pioneering work in mathematics, technology and collaborative filtering. 
  19. ^ Gary Robinson (2006-01-30). "Request for Your Input Regarding Three Steps To Freedom: THE 3 STEPS TO FREEDOM". Gary Robinson's Rants: Rants on spam, business, digital music, patents, and other assorted random stuff. Retrieved 2010-09-18. So, as a "thought experiment," I have imagined the following path to creating an alternative music industry. 
  20. ^ "FlyFi iTunes Helper for Mac". CNet. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. The FlyFi iTunes Helper sends the contents of your iTunes data file (a behind the scenes part of your iTunes library) to FlyFi server to be analyzed. By looking at your iTunes music, which is one of the best reflections of your musical tastes, FlyFi can make better new music suggestion. FlyFi can also use this information to better serve other members. 
  21. ^ "Management Team". Emergent Discovery. 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Gary Robinson, CTO, is a leader in the "recommendation engine" field. Gary’s background reflects his pioneering work in mathematics, technology and collaborative filtering. For instance, as a Research Director at ActiveState, Gary’s work on spam detection is now being widely adopted by the anti-spam industry, including such leading filters as SpamAssassin (PC Magazine's Editor's Choice for spam filtering), SpamSieve (MacWorld's Software of the Year) and SpamBayes (PC World's Editor's Choice for spam filtering). 
  22. ^ "New York Magazine". Google Books. Sep 12, 1988. Retrieved 2010-09-18. (ad for 212-Romance on left side of page) 

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