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Intel CTO Says Gap between Humans, Machines will Close by 2050
Aug 25, 2008
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Intel Corp.'s chief technology officer took a fascinating look at how technology will bring man and machine much closer together by 2050. Justin Rattner, during his keynote at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, CA, U.S., predicted big changes are ahead in social interactions, robotics and improvements in computer's ability to sense the real world. He said Intel's research labs are already looking at human-machine interfaces and examining future implications to computing with some promising changes coming much sooner than expected.

"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 future."

Intel researchers are investigating how millions of tiny micro-robots, called catoms, could build shape-shifting materials. If used to replace the case, display, and keyboard of a computing device, the technology could make it possible for a device to change physical form in order to suit the specific way you are using it. A mobile computer, for example, could be tiny when in a pocket, change to the shape of an earpiece when used as a mobile phone, and be large and flat with a keyboard for browsing the Internet or watching a movie.

Rattner described this as a difficult exploratory research agenda, but steady progress is being made. He demonstrated for the first time the results of a novel technique for fabricating tiny silicon hemispheres using photolithography, a process used today to make silicon chips. This capability is one of the basic structural building blocks needed to realize functional catoms, and will make it easier to bring the necessary computational and mechanical components together in one tiny package less than a millimeter across. The technique is compatible with existing high-volume manufacturing and enables the possibility to produce such catoms in quantity at some point in the future.

Robots today are primarily used in the factory environment, designed to perform a single task repeatedly and bolted down. To make robotics personal, robots need to move and manipulate objects in cluttered and dynamic human environments, according to Rattner. They need to be cognizant of their surroundings by sensing and recognizing movement in a dynamic physical world, and learn to adapt to new scenarios. Rattner demonstrated two working personal robot prototypes developed at Intel's research labs. One of the demonstrations showed electric field pre-touch that has been built into a robot hand. The technique is a novel sensing modality used by fish but not humans, so they can "feel" objects before they even touch them. The other demonstration was a complete autonomous mobile manipulation robot that can recognize faces and interpret and execute commands as generic as "please clean this mess" using state-of-the-art motion planning, manipulation, perception and artificial intelligence.

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