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Are "thinking" or "learning" computers simply a next logical step in computer evolution?

  This week's guest Question comes from INSIDER reader Kenneth Polcak: IBM has recently developed prototypes of energy-efficient computer chips that emulate the synapses, neurons, and learning functions of the human brain. IBM's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project seeks to mimic the functions of the brain on a new type of highly efficient processing chip. It uses advanced algorithms and silicon circuitry to create computers that could function without set programming and could "learn through experiences, find correlations, create hypotheses, and remember - and learn from - the outcomes." Such a system could, for example, monitor the world's waters via a network of sensors monitoring temperature, water pressure, or wave heights, and use that information to predict or detect tsunamis. Many believe this development is the next logical step in the technological progression of computer evolution, while others view this as a dangerous step with unknown or unintended consequences.   What do you think? Are "thinking" or "learning" computers simply a next logical step in computer evolution? Yes or no?    

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Will the PC be replaced by tablets and mobile devices?

  This week's Question: Last year, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said users are moving toward a "post-PC world," and computer sales have indeed slowed. Perhaps demonstrating Jobs' "post-PC" concept, the information technology giant HP recently announced that it would stop producing tablet computers and mobile phones, and that it is considering the sale of its PC division. Smartphone and tablet sales have increased, but many users still consider their Windows machines and Macs to be their central computing devices, and that new mobile technologies are complementing desktops and laptops rather than replacing them.   What do you think? Will the PC be replaced by tablets and mobile devices?  

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Is a GPS-based meter a promising model for cars?

This week's Question: Countries like the Netherlands have recently undergone trials of an automobile GPS system that uses a mileage-based formula to  calculate charges based on individual car trips. In particular tests, a  tabulation takes into account a car's fuel efficiency, the time of day,  and whether a route is a busy or less-traveled one. At the end of each  month, the vehicle's owner would receive a charge much like that of a cell phone bill, detailing times and costs of usage. Supporters of  these types of meters contend that the charges are fairer than current taxes like automobile purchase and registration fees; they derive from  actual use rather than mere ownership. If imposed, they could also  replace gas and vehicle taxes as well as tolls, or offer greater charges for vehicles with poor fuel efficiency. Opponents, however, dislike the  introduction of a new type of tax, and some critics have privacy concerns about the monitoring of drivers' locations.   What do you think? Is a GPS-based meter a promising model for cars?  

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Are airborne iPads a risk?

This week's Question: A growing number of airlines, including Alaska Airlines, are giving pilots the option of using iPads in the cockpit. In a flight scenario, the iPad would take the place of the hefty manuals and training documents that the Federation Aviation Administration requires pilots to have on hand. Some pilots embrace the idea of the touchscreen tablet use because they no longer have to struggle with thousands of manual pages (or changes to those pages), and they can manage and zoom in on information quickly, including aeronautical charts. Skeptics, however, say that the electronic gadget is geared toward consumers and therefore won't meet the usual stringent aircraft standards. The device, unlike paper, relies on batteries and could also be another distraction as pilots view multiple screens.   What do you think? Are airborne iPads a risk?    

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Will greater robotics initiatives hurt more than help?

This week's Question: Last month, the White House announced the National Robotics Initiative, a major program to develop next-generation robots for manufacturing, healthcare, and other areas. The robotics community received the project with enthusiasm, but some observers expressed concern about an expansion in automation. Some argue that processes carried out by robotic systems, like special surgeries and auto manufacturing tasks, are of a higher quality than those performed by a human, and they are essential for keeping companies competitive, and thus able to expand and hire more workers. Others, however, say that a greater move to automation will minimize the number of blue-collar and white-collar jobs.   What do you think? Will greater robotics initiatives hurt more than help?    

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Is there money in the moon?

This week's Question: Driven by a $30 million prize put up by Google, more  than two dozen teams have signed up for a competition to become the first  private venture to land on the Moon. That means spacecrafts could be heading out within a few years, and many entrepreneurs are developing possible ideas that could take commercial advantage of Earth's neighbor. Some say that the  endeavors are too expensive and the market is uncertain at this point, while others, including a former NASA computer scientist turned entrepreneur, say  that the numerous potential Moon business, from exclusive video feeds to  lunar lander trips, present "probably the biggest wealth creation opportunity in modern history."   Do you agree? Is there money in the moon?  

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Should we say good-bye to the incandescent light bulb?

While Congress failed to repeal light bulb efficiency standards last week, many had been debating the importance of LED bulbs and compact fluorescents. Supporters of incandescents say that the light source is cheap compared to alternatives, and its quality is fairly good. Others argue that the bulbs are inefficient, and that a move towards LEDs and flourescents will save energy in the long term and help the environment. What do you think? Should we say good-bye to the incandescent light bulb? Yes or no?

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