Framing It: 12.3.2019
A new computer form factor that’s old as dirt! World’s smartest man doomed to failure! Embedded Go! Never trust the AI autorouter!
Machine learning and PCB design
- You knew it would come to this. Someone added AI to autorouters. DeepPCB is a new company that will take your unrouted (KiCad) board and add traces. It’s an AI autorouter.
- DeepPCB takes a file generated by KiCad — just the board and nets, without any traces. Feed that into a GPU, and you get a finished board. It’s all sponsored by Nvidia. Does it work? We don’t know yet, because there are no examples of AI-routed boards.
Cyberdecks are dope
The latest trend in portable computation isn’t a phone, a tablet, or a microcontroller embedded in a pair of glasses. It’s a Cyberdeck! What’s a Cyberdeck? It’s taken directly from Neuromancer. It’s a computer that looks like it’s from the 80s and plugs into a TV, only it has more cyber. Cyber, by the way, means hidden, and it has meant hidden since before written language.
- Cyberdecks should feature some sort of neural or VR-inspired interface, but basically we’re just looking at a Raspberry Pi someone stuffed into an old computer. Need proof? Just take a look at the Cyberdeck subreddit.
- There are a few standouts in the field of Cyberdecks; Back7.co built a portable ‘lunchbox computer’ that’s meant to be a crash box for a network. Companies like Dolch were making similar computers back in the 90s for the same purpose.
- Not everything is a lunchbox crash cart or a Pi shoved into a Timex Sinclair. A few people are planning to manufacture a palmtop or Ultra-mobile PC. The best looking one out there is the Pocket from Popcorn Computer. It’s a 5" display, keyboard, a few USB-C ports, and that’s about it. It also runs on the successor to the Next Thing Co. C.H.I.P., a SoC that’s effectively a Pi clone-on-a-chip.
- What does all this mean? There’s a market for form factors we haven’t seen in 20 years. People are building them, and there’s a lot of money to be made in building tiny computers, running Linux, with a keyboard.
Artificial General Intelligence
- John Carmack is probably the smartest programmer on Earth. He wrote Doom and Quake. In fact, he wrote this line in Quake to find the inverse square root:
i = 0x5f3759df - (i >> 1);. The guy’s smart. He started a rocket company. He was the CTO of Oculus. The kids would say he has street cred.
- Now Carmack is on a new mission. He’s going to be working on artificial general intelligence. The goal of this field is to build Hal 9000 — a computer that’s just as smart as a human. It’ll pass a Turing test.
- No one knows how to do this. No one knows how to define intelligence, and I’ve met real, actual people that can’t pass a Turing test. How’s this going to go? Well, we’re wishing Carmack the best.
Go for embedded programming
- Microcontrollers are programmed in C, if you’re lucky. Yes, you can do Python or something sane if you want, but the vast majority of all embedded programming is in C.
- Now there’s Go for embedded microcontrollers. Michał Derkacz built a Go compiler for (relatively) high-power STM32 microcontrollers. Why? For memory safety, probably. Maybe he wants a job at Google? Either way, all the libraries are here.
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