Computers to Match Human Reasoning by 2050?

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At his keynote during the Intel Developer Forum this week in San Francisco, Intel’s chief technology officer Justin Ratter speculated that machines might catch up with human reasoning capabilities by the year 2050, and that Intel is already examining future human/machine interfaces and what improvements to machine reasoning and ability to sense the physical world might have in store for humanity.

“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.”

Rattner also highlighted Wireless Resonant Energy Link (WREL), a technology proposed by two MIT physicists that may enable practical wireless power—a technological dream almost as old as the electrical age itself. (Nicholas Tesla conducted early tests in wireless power transmission in Colorado more than 100 years ago.) WREL technology uses tightly coupled resonators which can absorb inbound energy at a specific frequency; in theory, the technology could enable devices to recharge their batteries when placed within several feet of a transmission source, and in his keynote, Rattner demonstrated powering a 60-Watt light bulb without using a plug or wire—and noted 60 Watts is more than what’s needed to run a typical notebook computer. However, the technology is still years away from any consumer release.

Rattner also noted Intel researchers are looking into how tiny robots—dubbed “catoms” rather than “nanites”—could be used to develop programmable, shape-changing materials, such as devices that change shape to match a particular use. A portable computer could, for instance, shrink itself down for storage and transport and expand out when in use, or a phone handset could generate an earpiece only when it’s in use…and that earpiece could be customized for a particular phone user. Rattner also highlighted possible future developments in robotics, including an electrical field that enables a robotic hand to “pre-touch” objects in the real world so the hald can sense objects before touching them—the technology is similar to a sense found in fish, rather than humans.

Of course, all these technologies are still under development and may never make their ways onto store shelves or into homes. But one hopes researchers at Intel and other technology companies are looking into security and privacy issues as they’re developing these technologies, rather than hoping those necessary features can be slathered on later. After all, one doesn’t want one’s home robot being reprogrammed by some teenager in eastern Europe to steal your silverware, or have the phone earpiece made from programmable matter suddenly decide to hold your ear hostage until you fork over a credit card number.

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