Reports from the cutting edge, where physics and biology are changing the fundamental assumptions of computing.
In this breezy overview of current trends in computer design and software, computer science professor Shasha and writer-editor Lazere profile 15 computer scientists working on the application of "evolutionary techniques" like natural selection to robots exploring distant planets, next generation pharmaceutical designs, "analog programming," and more. While traditional computing relies on "skills learned in the last few hundred years of human history," pioneer Rodney Brooks looked to solutions developed over millennia of insect evolution, hypothesizing a robot that interacts directly with the world using touch and sonar, rather than a digital representation; today, Brooks designs bomb-disarming robots that crawl on "articulated pogo-stick sensing devices that work independently." In finance, Jake Loveless perfected "micromarket trading," which allows computers to detect patterns and adapt to changes over the very short term (such as minute-by-minute price and volume changes). Other profiles look at "computers" built out of DNA, the use of viruses to design new drugs, and other ways scientists are planning our escape from "the digital electronic prison" that dominates mainstream computing. Amateur tech enthusiasts should be absorbed by this knowledgeable but welcoming look at the bleeding edge of computing.
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