Bits of History

Artifacts from the first 2000 years of computing at the Computer History Museum

9 min read
Photo: Mark Richards
Photo: Mark Richards

In some ways, collecting old computers isn’t much different from collecting anything old: You have to take care of the stuff. “Is it decaying?” asks Dag Spicer, senior curator at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, Calif. He describes the remains of sound-dampening foam that once hushed the whir of cooling fans in 1960s and ’70s mainframes. “It turns into a tarry mess—really gross, black sludge,” he says. That’s relatively easy to clean out, but some troubles require more technical expertise. Reading the information on a 1950s disk stack might be hard, says Spicer, a circuit designer turned historian, but harder still is making sense of it. “Do you recognize what these bits are?” he asks, explaining the need for both obsolete hardware and outdated operating systems.

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Video Friday: Turkey Sandwich

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
A teleoperated humanoid robot torso stands in a kitchen assembling a turkey sandwich from ingredients on a tray

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Enjoy today's videos!

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New AI Speeds Computer Graphics by Up to 5x

Neural rendering harnesses machine learning to paint pixels

5 min read
Four examples of Nvidia's Instant NeRF 2D-to-3D machine learning model placed side-by-side.

Nvidia Instant NeRF uses neural rendering to generate 3D visuals from 2D images.


On 20 September, Nvidia’s Vice President of Applied Deep Learning, Bryan Cantanzaro, went to Twitter with a bold claim: In certain GPU-heavy games, like the classic first-person platformer Portal, seven out of eight pixels on the screen are generated by a new machine-learning algorithm. That’s enough, he said, to accelerate rendering by up to 5x.

This impressive feat is currently limited to a few dozen 3D games, but it’s a hint at the gains neural rendering will soon deliver. The technique will unlock new potential in everyday consumer electronics.

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