Tech Briefing: 500 km/h Chinese Train, Brain-like Computer Chips, Use Your Hand as a Credit Card

By Corey Conley and Beatty Jamieson

Chinese Train Travels Over 500 Km/hour

Chinese high speed passenger train 500 km/h

A new passenger train was tested the last week of December that can reach speeds of 500 kilometers per hour, roughly 310 miles/hour. The train was built by China’s largest train maker, CSR Corp Ltd, and is modeled after an ancient Chinese sword.

While a speedy train as this is a huge accomplishment, it doesn’t ease fears of potential harm to passengers. This past year has been a dangerous one for Chinese train passengers with a collision between two high speed trains in July, resulting in the death of 40 people. Since then, construction of high speed trains has almost completely stopped.

While details about the new “super-rapid” test train are scarce, let’s hope that with the new technology propelling this train to world record speeds came some advances that will ensure the safety and growth of the many passengers that rely on these mass transit systems.

Scientists Researching Brain-like Computer Chips…that will be bad at math

fabricated analog very-large-scale integration (VLSI) chip used to mimic neuronal processes

This image shows a fabricated analog very-large-scale integration (VLSI) chip used to mimic neuronal processes involved in memory and learning

In a move that scares anyone who has seen a sci-fiction movie in the last 30 years, a consortium of 10 universities and IBM labs are closer than ever to revealing a “cognitive computing” microchip modeled after our own neurons.

Last August two prototypes were revealed, each containing 256 simulated neurons (for comparison, around 100 billion neurons are in between your ears right now). The next step for the SyNAPSE program – brought to you by the good folks at the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) – is a processor with 10 billion neurons.

The advantages to such a system are the same as the human brain over a conventional computer processor. A processor is like an idiot-savant able to complete mathematical tasks at lightning speed, one computation at a time – but ask it to recognize a face or carry on a conversation, and you’re likely to have problems.

The neuron chip will have incredible parallel processing abilities, allowing it to excel at the pattern recognition tasks that trip up conventional microprocessors; much like our own mind.

The chips, which will be relatively poor at pure computation (again, like our own minds), will work in concert with their Rainman conventional chips, interpreting the confusing human world for them – they’ll be the Tom Cruise to their Dustin Hoffman.

Cash, Credit, or Carpal? Your hand could replace your credit card

biometric hand credit card payment

Speaking of Tom Cruise… In Cruise’s latest movie, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, he accesses a hidden cache of equipment with a retinal scan. Hilarity ensues because the retinal scan is on the side of a moving train.

Cruise should have billed his bosses for a hand-identification system. Some Florida students and Carolina hospitals are already using hands to charge for services and get a positive I.D. on patients.

Simply wave your hand over a near-infrared light emitter, and the Fujitsu PalmSecure system quickly and harmlessly reads the complex pattern of veins in your hand for an instant, secure, and easy identification.

Biometric identification is hardly new, but it turns out the complicated 3D map of veins in your hands is more unique and even harder to fake then faces or fingerprints. While irises are just as unique, shoving your unblinking face into an iris scanner every time you want a “Soy Venti Mocha Light No Whip” would get old fast.

Fujitsu is banking on these facts to boost adoption of the system, which has to compete with simple institutional inertia. The rectangular plastic cards we use for identification and shopping may be inconvenient and insecure, but they’re familiar.

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