Lost Packets: Networking news and trivia

Robot knows when to hold’em

A computer scientist from Carnegie Mellon University has developed a robot that can play automated Texas Hold’em programs. The GS1 poker robot uses game theory instead of relying on the specialized expertise of human poker players to win hands of this popular card game. While GS1 is not as good as some of the best human players, it has won against two leading “pokerbots,” which are commerically available programs that uses the expertise of human poker players. The GS1 is similar to robots that were developed to play computer chess, but unlike that game, where the pieces are known to both players, poker forces players to make decisions on incomplete information. The makers have developed an improved version of GS1 called GS2 that uses pokerbots to precompute strategies at the “pre-flop” and “flop” rounds as well as the “turn” and “river” rounds.

Technology helps the sightless read

A device, developed by inventor Ray Kurzweil and the Maryland-based National Federation of the Blind, is said to help the blind “read” anything from menus to school assignments. Called the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind reader, it combines a personal digital assistant and a digital camera that converts text into audio. When the reader is positioned over printed material, it takes a picture, then seconds later the device’s synthetic voice reads the printed message. The reader comes with a headphone jack. About 30 years ago, Kurzweil invented a similar device but it was the size of a washing machine. The latest device is portable and about the size of a paperback book. The reader is available for sale and the list price is US$3,495.

Cure for cancer could be in old computers

That old computer sitting in your basement collecting dust may hold the key to developing an AIDS vaccine or the cure for cancer, according to a Seattle-based researcher. David Baker, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, has been working on a research project that looks to tap into the computing power of tens of thousands of PCs to work on scientific problems over the Internet. More than 60,000 people have donated computer power to Baker’s project, which equals the power of one supercomputer. Called “Rosetta(at)home,” the project sends work to computers which have the necessary free software and when the machine is idle, Rosetta figures out how an individual protein (the building blocks of life) might fold or contort and displays the findings as a screen saver. The results are then sent back to Baker. The project hopes the information generated will one day lead to cures to diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s. The project has participants around the world and Baker hopes to increase the number of computers by tenfold, hopefully enough to lead to major scientific breakthroughs.

Microsoft plans portable music player

There are rumours going around that Microsoft wants a piece of the iPod pie when it comes to digital music. Music industry executives expect an announcement from the software company that it will introduce its own portable digital music player. The differentiator, said these executives, is Microsoft’s MP3 player would have wireless Internet capabilities to download music without a PC. If the rumours are true, analysts believe that Microsoft would have a hard time breaking through Apple’s hold on the market. iPod accounts for 80 per cent of the portable music player marketplace. However, a Microsoft spokesperson said the rumour of the company offering its own MP3 player is just that: “speculation and rumour.”

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