I'm always fascinated to hear about what's going on in the science world, but since I watched movies like The Matrix and The Terminator I have had a bit of a worry about the things that computers are getting better at. I don't usually take it all that seriously, so I often miss out on hearing just what computers are actually capable of. Here is a list of some of the things I have learned about what computers have been getting up to while I wasn't paying attention. Some of these achievements are really cool, and not really scary at all!
1. Computers play 'emotionally engaging' music of their own
Japanese artist, Squarepusher, published an EP of music called Music for Robots, played by real robots. The creator wanted to see whether robots could play music that was emotionally engaging. You will have to listen to decide whether their track succeeds as far as you are concerned. But this was already two years ago, and it is said that computer technology gets twice as powerful every two years - so perhaps it won't be long before computers will be outdoing Elvis - or Mozart!
2. Computers use chips that are 'right-brained'
Traditionally computers have been said to be 'left-brained', because they operate sequentially, computing then storing information. Yet, newer neuromorphic chips operate in parallel, like the human brain, integrating data storage and processing. So, when we think of the left brain as being systematic and organized, we may have a strong image of a computer, but this may change. The right-brain is characterized as more intuitive and creative; that is, more human. It seems, therefore, that computer engineers are realizing a change in computers that is very profound indeed.
3. Computers can beat the 'Turing Test'
The Turing Test is a test that is set up to see whether a computer can convince a substantial proportion of people that it is a human. Such a test was performed recently by a chatbot (a chatting robot) program, with the human name of Ukrainian teenager, Eugene Goostman. Eugene was able to convince 33% of interlocutors that it was indeed a human being. Turing actually proposed the test in 1950, predicting that computers would be able to reach this stage of development. So, it is now a reality that computers can imitate humanity, realistically.
4. Computers can make accurate quantum calculations
In order for computers to make this breakthrough, it was necessary to create two new types of quantum bit - or qubit. A bit is always either 0 or 1, and a qubit can be both 0 and 1 at the same time, though once the qubit is measured, its state is known. Thus, a quantum computer can maintain a sequence of qubits that are in every potential combination of 1 and 0 imaginable. This type of computer can therefore perform complex calculations that all of us would certainly struggle with, and they can do so at incredible speeds.
Keystroke dynamics and text-pattern analysis have been utilized to find computer users' emotional states. Software from Bangladesh searched for seven different states: guilt, shame, disgust, sadness, anger, fear and joy. The latter was by far the easiest emotion it could read, at 87% accuracy. Anger was detected with an 81% accuracy. As time goes by, we know this will improve, as developers understand more about computing potential. Future software will attempt to read our emotions in order to react to us and adapt to our behavior.
7. Computers can create their own virtual universe
Dark matter annihilation radiation map from the Illustris Simulation
A laptop like mine would take 2,000 years to run a simulation of the universe's 13 billion-year development, but that hasn't stopped one research team from achieving this goal in two minutes (!) with supercomputers instead. Cosmologists make their living testing different theories, or models, to explain the development of the cosmos - in other words, everything in existence. One model has been tested on computers successfully, though there is no doubt the model itself is not accurate. If we can just come up with the right model, computers may be able to prove it for us - without us having to create a real life universe!
It is now possible for robotic limbs to pass sensory information to our nerves so that an amputee can actually feel the difference between light and strong pressure, texture and shape. The robotic hand in question detects the environment it makes contact with, and sends an electrical impulse to the nerves in the flesh, which the brain is able to interpret well. Could robots themselves be able to feel as well? It is looking that way...
9. Computers can now start up - in an instant flash
Francis / Flickr
Computers, as you well know, do not click on and start functioning quickly. They do not wake up and zip straight into action like my pet cat, or even my TV. Computers use Random Access Memory (RAM), which cannot encode its data without a flow of electrical current. So, when the computer is switched off, the RAM loses all its data. Turning on the computer requires all the data to be pumped back into the RAM. Yet knew technology has evolved a memory system that requires low voltage, and no current, which reduces power usage greatly. It is predicted computers will be very low power in the near future, and thus will turn on in an instant, rather like me when I rise from my sleep (on a good morning).
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