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IBM's Snowflake Microchips

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  • by MankyD (567984) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @11:18PM (#18983405) Homepage

    I know it comes as a surprise to no one that Mother Nature has some truly incredible engineering at work. I still, however, find it fascinating and amazing when examples like this come to light; I feel we will continue to see a lot more discoveries like this for the foreseeable future

    I have two questions for Slashdot: Are there any other unique examples of learning from nature that you'd like to bring to light? And on a different note, do you think nature has perfected certain tasks and that its engineering can not be surprassed (at least in some areas), or are there things that even nature hasn't perfected?

  • by Shihar (153932) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @11:58PM (#18983667)
    I think it is safe to say that 'nature' has not 'perfected' anything. Certainly there is a lot out there to be inspired by, but when it comes down to it nature performs a lot of guess and check to solve problems (although, even the use of the word problems is debatable, nature isn't a think that has problems).

    Personally, I think that you can step back and view all of 'nature' and include humanity. If you do, I think you will come to the surprising conclusion that humans are just another step on the path. I am not saying the path leads anywhere, but you see a sort of progression going on.

    Picture the universe how it was. It used to just be a mess of boring old atom parts. The parts formed up into atoms, and the atoms started forming up into molecules. Now, there are some molecules out there that form pretty easily. Hydrogen merrily grabs other hydrogens, carbon loves a pair of oxygen, so and and so forth. We are still talking about a pretty simple universe. At some point more interesting things started to happen. These molecules started to form into more complex molecules. Long complex strands of organic molecules started popping up (among other things). The universe is starting to get a little more diverse at this point. On Earth, at some point, these organic molecules started to show some really crazy behavior. They started self assembling into even more complex structures and forms. We have a sort of non-biotic evolution going on that slowly leads to more complex molecules and systems of molecules. At some point, we get the first bits and pieces of life.

    Once life shows up, things really kick into over drive. This slow multi-billion year process that got us basic organic molecules explodes as pieces of the universe come together to form the truly complex chemical system that makes up life. Evolution takes over and life begins to change rapidly. We are still talking about single celled organisms. At some point in a not-too-distant-past (well, on a cosmic scale) life started to get really complex, really quickly, as multi-celled organisms burst onto the scene. At some point, in just a blink of an eye on the cosmic scale, humans popped up from the evolution of multi-celled life.

    With the introduction of humans, this natural evolution towards complexity dramatically speeds up. Non-biotic evolution was slow. Biotic evolution was faster, but still took millions of years. Intelligence though... that was fast. Where evolution found it was by tedious chance, intelligence could find its way through rapid (although messy) computation. Throw in language and writing which allows easier data retention, and intelligence gets even faster.

    There is a theme to this. Greater complexity, faster and faster. Personally, I think that we are on the cusp of the next great revolution in this universe. In the same way the universe moving from random molecules bumping around to evolution, and moving from evolution to intelligence was a dramatic change, I think we are on the cusp of the next revolution. The next revolution is of course strong AI, which can create ever accelerating growth in intelligence. I am not saying it is good or bad, just that it is next. I think to separate intelligence and (eventually) AI from evolution and molecules randomly bouncing off each other misses a larger trend. It isn't human Vs inhuman, it is the universe rapidly finding better ways to create more complex systems, and create them faster and faster.

    So, to go back to the original poster... I don't think you really can separate the works of man from the works of nature. A computer is a work of nature at its finest. The fact that a computer is wrought from human intelligence doesn't make it any less an awesome work of nature then a monkey that got to be the way it is through evolution, or a molecule that got to be the way it is through a chemical reaction. The greatest work of nature (from my perspective of course, it isn't like 'nature' has a goal in mind) is human intelligence. That said, I doubt that intelligence is the last step on the path. I think the greatest works of nature are yet to come.
  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:34AM (#18983815) Homepage
    On a cosmic timescale, I can agree with you about Strong AI. But, having spent the past semester (exam on Wednesday!) learning about the state of AI, I can indeed assure you that you will need to wait quite a while before you start to see anything really Strong AIish coming to pass. Maybe towards the end of my lifetime you'll start to see something decent, but I'm guessing not. And even if they do have something by then, consider that NIs (natural intelligences) take many years (decades!) to get to the point that they do. Some of that can probably be skipped for the artificial version, but I've got little reason to doubt training the things will be Fast at all.
  • by alphamugwump (918799) on Friday May 04, 2007 @03:06AM (#18984713)
    The big problem with humans is we're so low bandwidth. We can type at, what, 50 WPM, and talk maybe twice that? If you gave an AI a reasonable connection to the internet, I thing you could train it a lot faster.

    If there is going to be a singularity (I don't really see why there wouldn't) strong AI wouldn't be the really world-changing thing. Humanoid robots are way, way, old school, and not really that interesting. The interesting thing would be what would happen when humanity is networked together with a high-speed connection, without a bottleneck at the eyeballs.
  • by BooleanLobster (1077727) on Friday May 04, 2007 @03:37AM (#18984849) Homepage
    FTA: "The process, called airgap, enables trillions of microscopic vacuum holes to be placed between the copper wire in chips to act as an insulator."

    Copper wire is not inlaid into silicon chips, as far as I know. I don't think they meant copper wire.

    This doesn't have anything to do with snowflakes or nature. Just a self-assembling polymer that can be used as a mask to etch holes in the oxide layer of the silicon chip, making the oxide a better insulator.

  • Tweak the ratio? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by trawg (308495) on Friday May 04, 2007 @05:04AM (#18985327) Homepage
    I wonder if they can tweak the ratio so that the chips run 10% faster but consume 40% less energy. Chips are pretty fast now, but battery life is still a bit of an issue - I'd be really interested to see if they could eke a few more hours out of portable devices (for example) and I'd be happy to keep it at the same speed.
  • by somersault (912633) on Friday May 04, 2007 @05:17AM (#18985393) Homepage Journal
    Who created the creator being though? I'm a Christian, and I do believe in God and that he created the universe etc, but it's just crazy to me that anything at all even exists, or ever did exist. Something has always existed. It's very strange.

    I also don't see how people who believe in evolution etc don't see how if something evolves enough it would be a 'god' to us anyway. It seems that all these people choose to believe that we are the most advanced intelligence/power going, they want to feel in control.
  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday May 04, 2007 @10:13AM (#18987915)
    Lightning in sand -> injection molding.

    I saw some stuff in college where they were studying fulgurites (the glass created when lightning hits sand) for the optimal method of injecting plastic into molds. Lighting will always take the path of least resistance. So you have a part you want to mold, they'd pack it full of sand and then hit it with artificial lightning. They'd then study the way that the lightning propagated through the sand to determine the way that all the injection lines should run.

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