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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How small can we go?

Watch my lips - Burton Pritzker/Getty
Google and the University of Oxford have developed a computer program that can read lips pretty darn accurately. That's good, I guess. Deaf people could use it to 'hear' what people are saying, though I suspect the bigger application will be the police listening to people's conversations.

We have computer programs that can understand speech, more or less, and programs that can interpret images, though that area still has a long way to go before it can compete with a human. So now I'm wondering how much computing power do you need to run these programs, and how small can you make these computers?

Smart phones are our current benchmark for high power in small spaces. It's a bit of a struggle to get all that power in that small of a package. So what I'm wondering is, if we could make our processors as efficient as we can imagine, how much computing power could you stuff into a smart-phone size package? Would it be enough to do everything you want it to do? Somehow I don't think so. There are always going to be tradeoffs, well, for the next thousand years or so anyway. By that time we may have settled on just what a hand-held device should contain.

Then there is whole hand-held thing. In Star Trek: The Next Generation communicators were something like a brooch pinned to the blouse (shirt?). All it took was one touch to activate and then everything was done by voice control (by your command). Having to use one hand just to hold a device so you can manipulate the controls with your other hand seems like a very bad design. There should be a better way, and maybe someday, someone will figure one out.

Star Trek Tricorder
All this talk about hand-held computers reminds me of the Star Trek Tricorder, which is where our smart phones might be headed. Qualcomm is running a contest to see if someone can develop a medical tricorder.

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