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Robots v. humans: Real steel or dumb metal?

Robots are making huge strides in space, on the ocean floor and even in the dentist office

Right from the start let’s agree that the argument of humans or robots is getting close to being a dead heat in some areas. With advances in artificial intelligence and complex software, many robots are close to performing some duties better than their human counterparts.

 

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For example, NASA and General Motors built the 300 pound Robonaut2 – or R2 – a robot that is capable of using the same tools as humans and now works alongside them in space onboard the International Space Station. R2 can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines and can easily work safely alongside people, a necessity both on Earth and in space, NASA stated. It is also stronger: able to lift, not just hold, a 20-pound weight (about four times heavier than what other dexterous robots can handle) both near and away from its body. Granted the robot takes up valuable space station space, but it doesn’t have to be fed or go to the bathroom – major advantages in space.

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Other robots such as the Octoroach being developed by UC Berkeley researchers can crawl into all manner of super-secret surveillance or emergency recovery applications that the human body just could not. The Octoroach is an eight-legged, sensor-laden, battery-powered device that can find its own way around a room and climb over obstacles. Its compliant, rather than rigid legs let it effectively mimic a cockroach scrambling across the floor.

Other robots such the REMUS 6000 autonomous underwater system recently conducted a 3,900 square mile search of Atlantic Ocean bottom looking for the deep-sea wreck site and black boxes from Air France Flight 447, which crashed off the coast of Brazil two years ago. The autonomous undersea vehicles are designed to operate in depths up to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet or 3.73 miles) and are capable of staying underwater for up to 20 hours. Human searches of the area never found anything, but the bots did.

But while robots can in certain areas achieve what humans cannot, you only have to look as far as say the products that are thought of and designed by the humans at Apple. Or look at the way humans can interact as a group to bring about social change -at least sometimes anyway. Getting robots to act as a group is a science that is only beginning to take shape.

Humans, at least some of them, still have feelings and emotions that robots just cannot mimic. Though some robots are getting close. Japanese researchers this year showed off a dentistry-training robot that can flinch, gag, blink and try to carry on a conversation with cotton stuffed in its mouth – effectively mimicking a real human visit to the dentist.

Still the notion that robots will at some point outperform us all is an interesting though scary proposition. In the current movie “Real Steel” a washed up boxer “teaches” a “sparing bot” how to fight in the ring with success. But in the movie the humans take control over the bots from time-to-time to help them box. Still, for purposes of our human v. robot argument, the movie was set in 2020 and the idea that robots could learn and perform boxing as a skill no longer seems that far-fetched.

AMD pushes Microsoft virtual desktops through new GPU

AMD’s new FirePro V9800P GPU will be able support up to 22 Windows 7 virtual-desktop sessions

Advanced Micro Devices on Monday announced a FirePro graphics processor for businesses that can deliver Windows desktop sessions to remote client PCs through support for Microsoft’s desktop virtualization technology.

 

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A single FirePro V9800P GPU will be able to deliver up to 22 Windows 7 virtual-desktop sessions per graphics card, said Mitch Furman, senior product manager at AMD. The virtual desktop sessions can be delivered to a range of remote clients, including PCs and diskless thin clients, through Microsoft’s proprietary RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) transport protocol.

The remote desktops are delivered by harnessing the parallel computing power of graphics processors, Furman said. GPUs are considered to be faster than CPUs at specific scientific and math calculations, and AMD is trying to add more commercial applications so graphics processors find wider use in data centers. Graphics processors are used in some of the world’s fastest supercomputers for specific calculations.

The V9800P is targeted at customers looking for workstation replacements through virtualization, or at companies like engineering firms looking to create clusters for execution of scientific or math tasks. The GPU supports Microsoft’s RemoteFX, a virtual desktop technology in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2011, to deliver a graphics-based desktop environment to client PCs.

The graphics card also supports DirectX 11, a Windows 7 technology that can harness the parallel processing capabilities of GPUs to improve gaming and application performance on PCs. The GPU also supports OpenCL, a set of programming tools to develop and manage parallel task execution.

The GPU does not yet support VMware and Xen hypervisors, and Furman couldn’t say when support for the technologies would be added.

Dell is now offering the graphics card with its PowerEdge M610x server, Furman said. The V9800P has 1,600 computing cores, with each core running at 825MHz. The graphics processor draws a maximum of 225 watts of power. The graphics processor is priced starting at US$2,499, and AMD did not immediately comment on worldwide availability.

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