SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, May 18, 2000, Chandigarh, India
Machines with artificial intelligence
by Sarabjeet Singh and K.B. Monga

THE importance of having an automated machine or a robot for doing a job instead of a human being is that they are extremely useful in performing routine and repetitive tasks, as they keep going indefinitely and never get bored or careless.

Cybersurfing with Amar Chandel

Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

New products & discoveries



Machines with artificial intelligence
by Sarabjeet Singh and K.B. Monga

THE importance of having an automated machine or a robot for doing a job instead of a human being is that they are extremely useful in performing routine and repetitive tasks, as they keep going indefinitely and never get bored or careless. Science fiction has always dreamt of such intelligent self-aware machines of future, which could search out their energy source on their own or war machines which can replicate themselves according to need of time, or the machines which can give birth to human babies (artificial hatchery), and even of that times when machine develop so much intelligence that they take over the charge of entire world and treat humans as their slaves. There is no limit to imagination and nothing is impossible in science fiction (so seems to be in real science too).

But are such machines possible? According to the first and greatest cybernetic theorist, John Von Neumann, the answer is yes!!

At present we can’t foretell how far artificial intelligence might develop in the next 50 years but according to British mathematician I.J. Good’s prediction the intelligent machines were supposed to be doing all the mental activities of human brain by the year 2000. But we know very well that today’s cleverest machine can do no more than chess playing (or a few other activities).

The first functional electronic computer ENIAC, of 1946 had 18000 vacuum tubes, could do 5000 calculations per second, demanded high amperage of current, produced a good deal of heat and always kept breaking down. Transistors replaced the tubes and silicon chips replaced the transistor all in less than 25 years and the room-sized computers became palm top computers! From vacuum tubes to microchips the factor of miniaturisation is more than 20 million is to one.

Engineers are trying to develop a new-generation of micro-micro chips, which will be shrunk by another order of magnitude. But there is a lower limit beyond which miniaturisation is not possible! The scientists present another idea, the biochips and organic computers — made of protein molecules sandwitched between glass and metal. And hold your breath-the world’s first bionic computer was recently developed by researchers at University of California, Berkley, and it is already in production under the trade name Robocop. Now let’s wait for the complete synthetic brain!

Today we only expect computers to assist in our work but the job of future computers will be to hold artificial intelligence rather than doing all the (rubbish) calculations.

Alan Turing, one of the leading theorists in area of artificial intelligence and of the belief that machines can become genuinely intelligent, suggested in 1950 that the easiest way to test the machine’s intelligence is to engage a person and the machine in a dialogue session via an electronic display screen. After some time if he begins to mistake the programme for a real person, the programme is said to have passed Turing test of artificial intelligence. American computer expert Kenneth Colby wrote a programme named “Parry” which mimics the responses of a paranoid patient. Another programme designed to conduct therapeutic session was Eliza and still another diagnostic programme was Mycin developed by E.H. Shortliffe. And since then numerous programmes — far more sophisticated than these — have been written.

There are programmes (such as game playing programmes) which have the ability to learn and therefore they get better and better with practice and don’t repeat mistakes. Also we are already aware how clever the computer viruses are!!

There is a long list of essentials for a machine to hold or develop true artificial intelligence viz., ability to reason, having all sense organs, having a sense of humour, having a sense of emotions etc. In short a good hardware (like a brain) would have to be mixed with a good programme (like its mind).

Intelligence, if housed in a humanoid body, would perhaps prove most useful to us ... as we can send them to space on say, a non-return mission, or say they would fight the battles for us.

But according to Asimov, robots must always be programmed to obey three laws: (1)A robot may not injure a human and neither allow human being to come to harm. (2) A robot must obey the orders of humans except when they conflict with first law (3) A robot must protect its own existence unless it does not conflict with first or second law.

No matter how firmly they will stick to these rules, they will always be confused to see how carelessly and easily we Humans ignore all the laws that we make for ourselves. So in the future only this will be the single distinction to find out the difference between a human intelligence and an artificial intelligence.


Cybersurfing with Amar Chandel
Facts, trivia galore

Sometimes facts can be stranger than fiction. Knowing these seemingly unimportant details may not make you particularly intelligent but does give you many conversation openings. For the trivia buffs, one site to explore is It is packed with a lot of information on a vast variety of subjects. For example, did you know that the first fax process was patented in 1843 by Alexander Bain, but fax machines went into service only in 1964. Leonardo da Vinci made detailed sketches of parachutes in 1485, but the first parachute jump took place only in 1793. There are quite a number of products that took more than 100 years to get to the marketplace.

Bees do not have ears. Ants can carry 10 times their own weight. African buffalos have been known to ambush people. Crocodiles cannot stick their tongue out. A male orangutan is four times stronger than a man.

Before Gutenberg started his printing press in 1454, there were about 30,000 books in Europe. By 1500, there were nine million. Did you know that the world's first novel was written by a woman? That was in the year 1007.

It took 175 days for the first airplane flight around earth. The first circumnavigation by hot air balloon took only 19 days - but that was 75 years later.

The first locomotive achieved a speed of 8 km/h (5 mph). New trains travel 500 km/h (300 mph). Or try 900 km/h (560 mph) in the new Airbus double-decker airliner. Not enough? Then head to a spaceport soon near you, and take your seat in the new VentureStar.

The chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1933, the LP record in 1948. In 1962, Khrushchev removed nuclear missiles from Cuba, but only after Kennedy agreed to remove US missiles from Turkey.

All these facts have been culled from the site in question. It is not easy to reach a particular piece of information that you are looking for but if you are just surfing, well… it is the ideal companion with whom you can spend a long, long time.


There are many famous paintings that you know the names of but do not know what they look like. The website lets you have a peek at a lot of them. Actually it is a catalogue of various paintings on sale but for a lover of art, they provide a golden opportunity to have a dekko.

The works are catalogued on the basis of subjects, artiste, genre and Editor's Choice. So it is not at all difficult to zero in on a particular painting. There are also special sections like children's art, sports, floral, cuisine, fantasy, figures, humour, illustrations, photography, vintage and world culture. Unfortunately, not all of them are reachable.


If some admire beauty, there are others who have an eye for the bizarre. The site belongs to the latter category. The makers have picked up offbeat photographs from the entire web to adorn this site. These are divided in various sections like big nose (where an Indian woman also figures, although I could not recognise her! Mercifully, names are not mentioned), baldies, ugly and dumbos etc.

Perhaps to compensate for all this odd stuff, there is a "pretty" section as well. But to be totally objective, neither are these photographs pretty enough nor the others in various sections grotesque enough, although the idea of such a site is interesting.


For those who love to read their newspapers on the Internet, there are hundreds of sites to choose from. But those who want to focus on the American papers alone, one site worth trying is The name may be odd but it is a serious site concentrating on American papers.

It goes without saying that one can reach special sections like comics and horoscopes of these newspapers at the click of a button. 


Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

1. “The simple is the seal of the true,
And beauty is the splendour of truth”.

These are the last words during delivery of his award-giving ceremony speech in 1983 said by an India-born American Nobel Laureate. Can you name the Nobel Laureate?

2. Another link between zoology and physics! US scientists have recently discovered that the parasite of malaria, especially the deadly plasmodium falciparum, loses vigour and dies when exposed to OMF. Thus application of OMF could prove revolutionary in controlling malaria. Can you think of the full form of OMF, which you read in magnetism?

3. In addition to visible light, which other type of dominant radiations are emitted by a burning candle, an electric bulb, heater, etc.?

4, A fish was kept in an open tray. Next day it began to give a strong unpleasant smell. Suggest a reason.

5. If copper utensils are not cleaned for a few days, a greenish layer is formed on them. Name the compounds formed on their surface which constitute a green coating.

6. This instrument consists of a one metre long glass tube with upper end closed, filled with mercury and inverted in a leather bag containing mercury. What is the name of this instrument which is generally used in the laboratory to measure atmospheric pressure quite accurately?

7. Detergents remove grease stains from clothes by drastically reducing the water-oil surface tension. What is the general scientific name of such surface active detergents?

8. In plant pathology, this term refers to the yellowing or blanching of leaves of green plants due to the deficiency of minerals or plant parasites. In human pathology, this term refers to a disease caused by the deficiency of blood in young women. Which term are we talking about?

9. This device, comprising two scales and based on the principles of logarithms, was widely used for calculation work before the advent of electronic calculator. Can you name this device and its inventor?

10. Astrologers had predicted that the coming together of five planets on the same side of the earth on May 5 would cause havoc on earth. But the event passed off without a stir. Can you name these planets, popularly known as “naked-eye planets”?

1. Subramanyam Chandershekhar 2. Oscillating magnetic field 3. Infrared radiation 4. Proteins present in fish decompose into amino acids, ammonia and sulphur compounds (the same process takes place in dead human and other animal bodies) 5. Copper carbonate and copper hydroxide 6. Fortin’s barometer 7. Surfactants 8. Chlorosis 9. Slide rule; William Oughtred 10. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.



New products & discoveries

Car in a trunk
A novel concept of encouraging technological development is to encourage scientists and researchers to compete in idea contests in Japan. It is popular among car companies like Honda, Mazda and Nissan. The company engineers are asked to devise technology marvels by giving a free rein to their impossible ideas and dreams. The thinking behind this concept is that these ideas may be impossible today but could become a possibility tomorrow.

It also gives a chance to the engineers, computer designers and researchers to escape from the daily monotony of manufacturing cars in the factory. To ease their stress, the companies give them not just a chance to challenge and develop their ideas but also offer rich cash incentives for those who come out with plausible products.

One of the leading organisations promoting this is the Mitsubishi Automobile company which recently held an “Idea Grand Prix” contest at its Okazaki plant in Aichi Pref., 300 km west of Tokyo. There were 33 participants in the contest, 25 vehicles were demonstrated and introduced in the final contest.

Each team was supported by the company for Yen 250,000 to produce their idea. Though Mitsubishi spent Yen 30 million on this event. None of the vehicles is planned to be marketed in the near future though the designers have been asked to continue their research into the novel projects, like the one shown here. It is a car which can be easily folded into a trunk.

Glass food for plants
For plants that do not absorb most of the fertilisers supplied to them via soil, scientists have come up with a novel food made of glass that promises to increase their yield by giving optimum nutrition.

The new micronutrient glass, developed by scientists at the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute (CGCRI) in Calcutta, has been successfully tested on oil seeds and pulses.

A team of four scientists led by Nisha Biswas enriched glass frits with silicate and phosphate micronutrients at a temperature of 1300 degrees celsius to produce the special glass.

“The glass food is meant for plants having low solubility in both acidic and basic medium,” A K Chaudhuri, a member of the research team, told PTI.

The special glass food, to aid the farming of crop systems like mustard and rapeseedmustard, showed remarkable increase in leaf area, photosynthesis, chlorophyll content and nitrogen assimilation in comparison to those of conventional fertilisers, he added.

All-optical transistors
Electronic transistors may one day be replaced by all-optical transistors, which are in early stages of development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the USA.

The findings can tremendously affect development of optical switching technology and can lead to applications in communications, sensing and computation, according to ORNL scientists who are using photons instead of electrons and creating a new kind of transistor that is 100 times faster than current transistors.

A transistor is an active component of an electronic circuit consisting of a tiny block of semiconducting material of which at least three electrical contacts are made. Transistors, which can be used as amplifiers, detectors or switches, are integral part of computers, telephones and virtually all electronic components.

The work at ORNL builds on research that led to the development of uncooled micro-mechanical infrared detection. The new micromechanical quantum detector is s highly sensitive miniature photon (light) detection device based on photo-induced stresses in semiconductors, according to a release from the laboratory.

Hydrogen from algae
Hydrogen, a valuable fuel, can now be harnessed from sunlight and water through photosynthesis by triggering a molecular switch in a kind of algae.

Scientists at University of California (UC) in Berkeley along with researchers from the University of Colorado in USA, have discovered the switch in a type of microscopic algae which uses the switch to turn off a cell’s usual photosynthetic apparatus at will so that the cell can be directed to use stored energy with hydrogen as the byproduct.

Many energy experts believe hydrogen gas one day could become the world’s best renewable source of energy and an environment-friendly replacement for fossil fuels.

Currently, hydrogen fuel is extracted from natural gas, a non-renewable energy source. What has been lacking is a renewable source of hydrogen.