Space—the final frontier, is the visionary explorer’s cry. In Star Trek: The Original Series (1966–1969), this mission was lived out by the constant and ongoing exploration of Starfleet going where no one has gone before. Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner, 1931–), the daring Starfleet captain, commanded the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) and is known for setting the course and going “warp speed ahead” in boldly exploring new worlds. The exploration of space continues today and is being fulfilled by visionaries such as Elon Musk (1971–) through the enterprising endeavors of SpaceX.
In a manner analogous to the Star Trekian vision of flying off into space at high speeds, humanity is presently proceeding with warp speed in the interaction between man and robots and even androids—robotic machines made anatomically to resemble human beings.
Data (Brent Spiner, 1949–) is the name of an android who was a Lieutenant commander on the USS Enterprise-D (NCC-1701-D) under the command of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, 1940–) on the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994). While Data the android and Picard the human were successful in their ability to interact, our society is presently forging ahead creating the technologies to make this realization a part of our future.
As subjects, humans are conscious (aware of the environment and context), self-aware (aware of their self as a being), and sentient (sensory awareness and experience). Android and human interaction remain complicated because human appearance, movement and thought are all still works in progress for our full understanding. As humanity learns more, it continues to put this learning into action by building robots and androids in its image. Successfully realizing the Star Trek vision of android and human interaction may be aided by technologies that innovative companies like Intel are developing. Intel believes that technology must constantly evolve to make things possible and all things easier, smarter and more connected than ever before. Intel is working to provide solutions and components that offer advances in programming, artificial intelligence (AI), computing, storage and power.
Initially, the android Data––despite his self-awareness and sentience––had difficulties understanding aspects of human behavior. In the TV show, these misunderstandings where often the subject of frustration, humor, and eventually learning. The ability to experience something and make adjustments for his behavior in the future was an ongoing part of the show. Viewers were invited to see what situations would develop, and how they would be ultimately resolved. Data’s interaction with humans often includes him wanting to experience reality more humanly than merely as a machine. It even led him to explore whether or not romance and love was something of which to partake (Season 4, Episode 25: In Theory, 1991).
“I chose to believe that I was a person, that I had the potential to become more than a collection of circuits and sub-processors.” —Data
One of the critical ways that Data learned human behavior was via his positronic cortex unit (PCU), his computer brain. With an initial processing speed of 60 × 1012 operations/sec and a storage capacity of 100PB, Data contains loads of computing and storage power (Season 2, Episode 9: The Measure of a Man, 1989). By way of comparison, the human brain is estimated to have approximately 2.5PB, giving Data about 40x more storage capacity than a human.
Known as a leader in digital computing with their microprocessors being at the core of the computer revolution, Intel is working to bring the reality of a PCU like technology reality. One such stepping stone in this path is the Intel® Movidius™ Neural Compute Stick (NCS). The NCS is a modular deep learning accelerator packaged in a standard USB 3.0 stick for unlocking deep learning inference applications for offline artificial intelligence (AI) prototyping. It features the Movidius™ Vision Processing Unit (VPU) with energy-efficient Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) processing providing class-leading performance at ultralow power.
All that computing power often requires places to store digital data. Data’s storage capacity is enormous. Intel, also a leader in semiconductor memory solutions, continues to solve demanding memory and storage challenges with a combination of low latency, ultra-endurance, high quality-of-service, and high throughput. The Intel® Optane™ SSD DC P4800X Series is the first to combine the attributes of memory and storage. This innovative solution is optimized to break through storage bottlenecks by providing a new data tier.
Androids, such as Data, are always moving about and interacting with humans. To do so, they must be able to gather sensory information about their environment. Humans gain much of their visual information through eyesight. Data had eyes that were programmed through a Fourier series to blink randomly (Season 7, Episode 10: Inheritance, 1993). Intel has the vision to develop solutions that will enable machines to sense their environment visually in a manner analogous to humans. The Intel® RealSense™ Depth Camera D400-Series uses stereo vision to calculate depth. Both the D415 and D435 versions are USB-powered and consist of a pair of depth sensors, an RGB sensor, and an infrared (IR) projector. They are ideal for makers and developers to add depth perception capability to prototype development.
Like the character Data, technology continues to evolve and develop. Intel is working to make possible the most amazing experiences of the future. There is more work to do make it so that the Star Trek vision of android and human interaction operates with perfect synchronization. In the meantime, we set our sights forward and proceed exclaiming, “Warp Speed Ahead.”
Paul Golata joined Mouser Electronics in 2011. As a Senior Technology Specialist, Paul contributes to Mouser’s success through driving strategic leadership, tactical execution, and the overall product-line and marketing directions for advanced technology related products. He provides design engineers with the latest information and trends in electrical engineering by delivering unique and valuable technical content that facilitates and enhances Mouser Electronics as the preferred distributor of choice.
Before joining Mouser Electronics, Paul served in various manufacturing, marketing, and sales related roles for Hughes Aircraft Company, Melles Griot, Piper Jaffray, Balzers Optics, JDSU, and Arrow Electronics. He holds a BSEET from the DeVry Institute of Technology (Chicago, IL); an MBA from Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA); an MDiv w/BL from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, TX); and a PhD from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, TX).
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