Saturday, August 30, 2008

Intel: the future of robots revealed

A world where robots and human live side-by-side is just pure
science fiction, right? Not according to Intel's chief technology
officer Justin Rattner. We find out just how close we are to having
robots roam the earth.

A world where humans and robots live side-by-side could be possible as soon as 2050, says Intel's chief technology officer Justin Rattner.

prediction came during his speech at the recent Intel Developer Forum,
which took place in San Francisco. He also said that the chip maker's
research labs are working on human-machine interfaces and looking to
foster big changes in robotics and in the ability of computers to
interact with humans. He specifically pointed to work that Intel is
doing on wireless power and on developing tiny robots that can be
programmed to take on the shape of anything from a cell phone to a shoe
or even a human.

"The industry has taken much greater strides than anyone ever
imagined 40 years ago," Rattner said. "There is speculation that we may
be approaching an inflection point where the rate of technology
advancements is accelerating at an exponential rate, and machines could
even overtake humans in their ability to reason in the not-so-distant

In a recent interview Rattner, who also is a senior fellow at Intel,
made similar comments, saying that perhaps as early as 2012, the lines
between human and machine intelligence will begin to blur . The
intelligence gap should become awfully narrow within the next 40 years,
he added, predicting that by 2050, computing will be less about
launching applications and more about using systems that are
inextricably woven into our daily activities.

In that same vein, Rattner talked about programmable matter during
his IDF speech. He explained that Intel researchers are working to
figure out how to harness millions of miniature robots, called catoms,
so they could function as shape-shifting swarms.

"What if
those machines had a small amount of intelligence, and they could
assemble themselves into various shapes and were capable of movement or
locomotion?" he said. "If you had enough of them, you could create
arbitrary shapes and have the assembly of machines that could take on
any form and move in arbitrary ways."

The basic idea is that the catoms, which one day should be about the
size of a grain of sand, could be manipulated with electromagnetic
forces to cling together in various 3D forms. Rattner said that Intel
has been expanding on research work done by Seth Goldstein, an
associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

actually doing it for real," Rattner said. He added that Intel started
"at the macro scale" with catoms that were "inches across". The robots
had microprocessors associated with them and could attract or repel one
another via electromagnetism or the use of electrostatic charges,
according to Rattner. "It's programmable matter," he said.

During his speech, Rattner showed off millimetre-scale 3D catoms and
said that electronics could be embedded inside the miniature robotic
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