Greg Woloschyn / Food-bot
The Food-bot website helps hungry college students find campus events offering free food.
For hungry, cash-strapped college students, few things are better than free food. At least that's the reasoning behind Food-bot, an award-winning website that identifies events offering free food on college campuses.
Of course, free food is often just an enticement to get people to events. So, along with food ratings, the Food-bot scales the awkwardness of showing up unannounced and includes estimates of how much time must be invested to get fed.
The website is the brainchild of Greg Woloschyn, who earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2010. It is this year's winner of the university's Smiley Award*, which is given to students for innovations in technology-assisted person-to-person communication.
(*Carnegie Mellon lays claim to creating the now-ubiquitous smiley emoticon, :-), in 1982.)
Food-bot began as a Gmail account: Woloschyn subscribed to thousands of mailing lists and used a Gmail filter to delete any mail that didn't contain a food-related word. He improved it after learning a few tricks in a course on artificial intelligence.
The program analyzes emails to detect mentions of free food and extracts information on when, where, and circumstances of the feast. The website also allows student groups to post information manually, which in turn helps them publicize their event.
For those who are afraid the Food-bot is further evidence that computers and robots will take over the world, Woloschyn dedicates a section of his website to examples of when Food-bot failed.
"On the one hand, I love to see my program working as expected. But on the other hand, it can be pretty humorous sometimes to see some of the mistakes food-bot makes," he writes.
For example, hungry Berkeley students eyeing a salmon lunch last month with middling time commitment and awkwardness ratings were likely disappointed to show up at a lecture on the "nutrient food-web ecology of Pacific juvenile salmon in freshwater and marine ecosystems under variable anthropogenic and climate conditions."
No doubt visiting professor Asit Mazumder's research is important to fisheries management, but free salmon for hungry students was probably far from his mind that day.
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).