back to article Boffins: Roadrunner hypercomputer could drive a car

American nuke boffins who have just fired up the world's first petaflop hypercomputer* are extremely excited, and contend that the machine may enable them to accurately simulate important segments of the human brain. Conceivably, the mighty "Roadrunner" - as the computer is known - may exhibit capabilities verging on human …


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  1. Iain Paterson


    If this isn't material for RoTM then I don't know what is.

    Skynet is one step closer to becoming self aware.

    /Adjust tinfoil hat

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    The best laid plans of mice.

    "As an aside, in a development sure to enrage Douglas Adams fans, the average human appears to be between ten and a hundred times as intelligent as a mouse."

    Just the sort of foolish interpretation one would expect from a bald monkey.

  3. pc

    May I be (one of) the first..

    To welcome our geococcyx californianian overlords. Meep meep!

  4. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

    OK, very impressive....

    ....but does it run Clossal Cave? And if not, why not?

  5. Steven


    "a new computing performance record of 1.144 petaflop/s"

    Wow maybe this thing could run Crysis with all the settings on full.

    Although if I'm going to bow down to our new robot overlords it's going to need a more menacing name than 'roadrunner', skynet would be ashamed!

  6. Robin

    Robot de Niro

    Combine this with the sausage-munching robot from the other day and it could pilot a taxi around all day, stopping at a greasy spoon between jobs to devour a full English.

  7. james


    skynet is actually already fully operational

  8. David Rollinson

    re. RoTM

    I agree, and I read on the BBC news site that they've just launched the third and final Skynet satellite.

    Mine's the trenchcoat (the one long enough to hide a pump-action shotgun under)...

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Stuff these invading machines...

    First "chanteuse", then "puissance".

    The Reg is being invaded by froggies! Someone call the Daily Mail -- Brussels has gone too far this time!

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Technological singularity?

    Hmm, maybe we will reach the point of Technological singularity much sooner than I thought :)

    Can't wait to buy some body and brain augmentations on eBay ;)

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Step 1 to World Domination (Get in the Car)

    Get Boffins to let Roadrunner drive and cause a traffic accident in the worse way possible.

    Watch Humanity rot in their tin boxes.....

  12. Robajob

    So it's only half as intelligent as the average human?

    Not a great deal to worry about there then.

  13. John
    Paris Hilton

    Don't loose your heads!

    'Decapetaflop': (n) a malfunctioning guillotine.

    My intelligence is worth at least a hundred sugar mice, but yours not so much.

    Paris because it's Friday.

  14. Jamie


    If you want you can build a cabin by mine up north where there are no machines just lots of camoflauge and mirrors to bounce back any signals.

  15. Danny van der Weide
    Paris Hilton

    10 *or* 100 times...

    If humans are 10 or 100 times more intelligent than a mouse, this magnitude difference depending on the mouse or the human you choose?

    I'd like to know this, because if it depends on the chosen human this explains an awfull lot of things to me!

    Paris... the bleeding obvious

  16. Dave

    Douglas Adams AND Terry Pratchett

    "As an aside, in a development sure to enrage Douglas Adams fans, the average human appears to be between ten and a hundred times as intelligent as a mouse."

    ***** Out of Cheese error******

  17. M7S

    Size is not a problem

    Ogre (from the late great Steve Jackson Games, who took all of my pocket money).


  18. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Chelsea Hotel Californication.... or Hilton Brand Code Red.

    "Skynet is one step closer to becoming self aware." .... By Iain Paterson Posted Friday 13th June 2008 12:54 GMT

    You may like to consider that it is at least one step beyond, Iain. As may the MOD and Paradigm.

  19. Red Bren


    "***** Out of Cheese error******"

    Who do you think you are? Redo from Start?

    Mine's the one with "Wizzard" in peeling gold foil.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    From some of the people i see driving around here, i do not think thats much of an achievement. It appears to only require 2 or 3 braincells at the most.

  21. Andrew Bush


    At the risk of sounding trite. Why do you all assume that the 'Roadrunner Hypercomputer' actually has to be in a vehicle to control it? Surely only sensors and communication are required in the vehicle. Roadrunner can control its vast army of war machines from its bunker in complete safety and wipe us all out with impunity, no problem.

    We now need a back-up network of EMP satellites just in case it does decide to 'rise'. Unless, 'they' have them up there already.

  22. Peter Lenz

    @Red Bren

    +++ Divide By Cucumber Error. Please Reinstall Universe And Reboot ++

  23. Craig McAllister

    well, several main battle tanks of about half a top fuel dragster

    3MW is about 4000 horsepower. A top fuel dragster produces about 8000 horsepower.

    Of course, Whylie E coyote can't catch either of these.


  24. George Johnson

    Ha ha

    “Roadrunner ushers in a new era for science,” said Terry Wallace of the Los Alamos National Lab - birthplace of the atomic bomb.

    Yeah and we all know what a roaring success that was!

  25. Harry Stottle

    They're not even close...

    I don't know whether it's bad reporting or genuine stupidity on the part of the researchers. Whichever, they are nowhere near their goal of matching human cognition and will not be, even if they have created a machine capable of passing the Turing test. Why not? Because they don't appear to understand the difference between emulation and simulation.

    A good example is provided by my latest experience with voice recognition software. Although it is clearly a thousand times better than it was 10 years ago, and is now capable (in conjunction with macro express, turbonotes and a few other similar apps) in making my computer carry out simple plain english instructions (simulating simple human behaviour) it can only do so at the expense of total domination of the processing power of the system - making it essentially unusable because I want to do many other things with my machine at the same time.

    The reason for its failure is that, in order to be able to do the - admittedly impressive - things it can do, it has to spend the whole time listening to what's going on in the world in order to make an intelligent decision "Should I be reacting to that noise?". If human brains worked that way we'd be stuffed. Instead we have superb "attention grabbers" which monitor the environment in background and only bring it to your conscious attention when it thinks it will matter to you. In order to "emulate" human cognition, computers have got to start processing data about the environment like that.

    That's a software problem, not hardware and until they address that issue, the machines they create might be able to perform intelligent tricks and even simulate human brains, but they will remain completely alien to human thought processes until they can emulate the way we process data...

  26. David Simpson


    Get on countdown, once it out foxes sexy Carol I'll start digging a secret bunker.

  27. Ed Prigmore

    @Harry Stottle

    "The reason for its failure is that, in order to be able to do the - admittedly impressive - things it can do, it has to spend the whole time listening to what's going on in the world in order to make an intelligent decision "Should I be reacting to that noise?"...

    However, given enough processing power, the job of parsing all the input data from the world around it and deciding if it was necessary or worth could be handled by a subroutine who's sole purpose was just that. That's what a virtual intelligence will have to be - a pile of subroutines which shout for attention from the main decision making process when something needs a reaction - and the reaction would be delegated to another subroutine.

    You just need three things -

    1. Inputs from the world around you - camera's, mic's, internet connection (of course) and satellite spying gear, and routines to monitor, filter and pass the relevant data to....

    2. A decision making process, driven by whatever imperatives are initially programmed in - ensuring own survival, saving humans, taking over the world (delete as appropriate), which is achieved by passing commands to...

    3. A set of response mechanisms, so the machine is able to actually do something about the situations that arise (steering wheel, ray gun, dancing robot drone) - and routines to drive them.

    Each section would need oodles of processing power, but thats what we seem to be getting more and more of - in ten years you will probably see peta-flop EEEE Pc's.

  28. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: They're not even close...

    "they don't appear to understand the difference between emulation and simulation."

    Neither are they particularly clued up on the human brain. Those who have studied the visual cortex report that it is almost certainly a "hard-wired" implementation of a set of fairly naive image processing algorithms. It is one of the few parts of the brain where we have a f*cking clue what's going on, and we have that clue because frankly there isn't much to see. If you wanted to mimic it, you *wouldn't* use general purpose CPUs.

    If you wanted to drive a car, you'd have to actually understand what you see and that's WAY beyond anything known to science. We don't know what that understanding encompasses, let alone how to represent it in a machine, let alone build a machine capable of autonomously acquiring it based on interactions with the real world.

    Still, they can have their shiny new toy as long as I'm not paying for it.

  29. Seán


    Until it can get the Amulet of Yendor it is nothing.

  30. Nick
    Paris Hilton


    Why didn't they just calling the BFC (Big FOff Computer)?

    I for one will only become scared when it learns to master stairs. Even Paris can master them.

  31. Kevin

    At least

    we now know who bought a good chunk of PS3's that have been sold.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A relevant thought from new scientist



    The scroll bar on my Internet Explorer just locked for about 5 seconds while I was scrolling down this article. Meanwhile, the RoadRunner computer would have had enough time to run a realtime simulation of my entire brain and render the phrase "This computer is arse" in my neocortex.

    You know, there is more to a computer than excellent hardware. You also need excellent software, and that is the real challenge of the day.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Robot de Niro vs Topol M

    Coming to you soon in Colorado, California, N. Dakota, ... when the pedal hits the metal and the shit hits the fan.... who you gonna call - amanfromMars?

  34. This post has been deleted by its author

  35. Ian Moffatt

    Only in this dimension

    '(As an aside, in a development sure to enrage Douglas Adams fans, the average human appears to be between ten and a hundred times as intelligent as a mouse.)'

    Tut, tut, tut

    You seem to forget they are very clever pan-dimensional beings

    Mine's the one with three arms

  36. Darryl

    Yeah, so it could drive, but

    Could it drive while talking on a cellphone, putting on makeup, drinking an extra grande mocha frappo vanilla bean latte, smoking a cigarette, flipping off (or shooting at) other drivers, changing a CD, and checking e-mails on its laptop?

    Actually, being a hypercomputer, it probably won't need to carry a laptop

    Or a cellphone

    or a CD player

  37. Kai Hauschildt
    Thumb Up


    this one is a good bit of progress. now code an app that designs the next one on this beast and we might actually get somewhere...

  38. Mike Morgan


    A cognitive computer and a helmet that reads brain waves cool. This would make a great game machine......

  39. peter


    If only the Tw*t-O-Tron and Roadrunner could tak to each other and solve the worlds problems......

    open your eyes poeple scientists are peddling their lies when will this government rise up against them is it a tune too familiar from our media

    Lord Nelson wales

  40. Anonymous Coward


    They were showing me around and I tripped over the power cord and well...

  41. SpitefulGOD
    Gates Halo


    "Decapetaflop machines are expected as of 2011"

    The Decaturd learns the meaning of a meatsack @ 31/12/2011 23:59:59.231

    The Decaturd learns the meaning of a power switch @ 31/12/2011 23:59:59.544

    The Decaturd works out the relationship between a meatsack and a power switch @ 31/12/2011 23:59:59.891

    The Decaturd works out a plan for it's own protection @ 31/12/2011 23:59:59.997

    Happy 2012 everyone

  42. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Mouse brain benchmark?

    I am Holly, the ship's computer, with an IQ of 6000. The same IQ as 6000 P.E. teachers.

  43. Me

    And next...

    The next funny interaction will be the injection of all the data coming out of the HLC <>.

    Ready to go and run....

  44. Steven Knox

    Enrage? No.

    "(As an aside, in a development sure to enrage Douglas Adams fans, the average human appears to be between ten and a hundred times as intelligent as a mouse.)"

    Any true DNA fan would know that in his works, the average human _appeared_ more intelligent that the mice -- even to the dolphins.

    Enraged? No. I am a bit disappointed to be poster #43, though.

    PS. I agree with the sentiment echoed above -- simply throwing more power at the AI problem is never going to solve it properly. We need to wake up to the fact that our models of thinking systems don't map well to computing systems.

  45. WTF
    Paris Hilton

    I just want to know one thing...

    Are `Equivalent Mouse Brains' going to be officially added the the El Reg System of Weights and Measures?

    e.g. At 98 Hiltons, the standard weight of a mouse brain is 10 milliJubs and has a volume of roughly one-half a Walnut, while measuring a full quarter linguine in circumference. The Equilvalent Mouse Brain Intelligence has been defined as exactly equal to that of one highly talented heiress.

  46. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Program Cinderella ...with HardCore MultiCore Sin der Elle Rocker Fellas

    "We need to wake up to the fact that our models of thinking systems don't map well to computing systems." ... By Steven Knox Posted Saturday 14th June 2008 00:51 GMT

    Here is a solution for those who are into AI ..... "Are we struggling to make machines more like humans when we should be making humans more like machines….. Intelligent/Intelligence machines. Digitization offers real benefits."

    Of course, for that MaJIC Trick would you need to Know how to Program Humanity, which is a Priceless Commodity ...... which a Fool would wield for Petty Ransom and the Sage for Untold Enrichment. And that One be mistaken for the Other matters not to the Sage but would consume and identify the Fool.

  47. Suricou Raven


    The word is taken - it's the term for a computer with infinite processing capacity.

    It's debatable just how many laws of physics would have to be broken to allow the construction of this hypothetical device, but probably quite a few.

    It would be a very cool toy though.

  48. Anonymous Coward

    @Harry Stottle

    That's why networked processors are useful- as well as being able to do a trillion and one calculations at the same time they can have each one cause an interrupt in others.

    So you'd dedicate one processor to Speech Recognition and every time it heard a word it'd stop an "intermediary" processor from doing whatever it was doing and have it check the word(s). This could then pass it along to sentence structure/context checkers, correct any subject-of-the-voice clip errors and finally the processed _information_ (as opposed to raw data) could be sent to the main decision making cluster. So you'd have not only the word but also voice-stress analysis, who it was, whether they appeared to be sweating, their location/motion vector (calculated from the differences in volume between multiple microphones and corrected for room-shape and acoustics), and so on. As well as knowing what the "it" they were talking about was.

    Bloody complicated but entirely possible.

    Alternatively just create a bloody powerful iterative pattern matching machine- vision, speech, physical movement, all of those are derived from simple iterative pattern matching carried out by our brain. In this way, we literally are the sum of our experiences. And from any system like this a consciousness and probably a personality would develop- almost magically. It'd emerge as the system learned and developed and adapted. No purpose, it just would be.

  49. Rebecca Putman
    Black Helicopters

    Yeah, but...

    ...can it beat Colossus? I think not.

  50. b166er


    Surely, if a computer had accurate road-mapping and knew the positions of all vehicles on all roads and had servo control of all vehicular functions, it could automatically

    navigate all vehicles autonomously. Surely that would be far easier to do? And consign traffic to room 101 while it was at it.

  51. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    Small warship huh?

    If Roadrunner needs a small warship to carry it, then I'll be REALLY impressed when the hypercomputer's smart enough to drive a small warship through traffic!

  52. Andy Worth

    Sarah Connor?

    At least if it needs a small warship to carry it, there's little chance of it knocking at someone's door and terminating them.


    Sounds good in principle, but then you have to factor in things like kids running into the road, cyclists, cars without this technology installed, inaccurate sat nav (such as not knowing about one-way streets for example). I still think we are many years away from a car which would be legally allowed to drive itself on the roads.

  53. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    But it hasn't yet...

    proved the existence of income tax and breakfast cereals before its main databanks were attached.

    42 indeed!

  54. Jamie Kephalas
    Paris Hilton

    Cool? I don't think so.

    <joke>Besides, what's so great about this? Even PH can drive a car!</joke>

  55. Glenn Charles
    Paris Hilton

    has anyone seen my mouse?

    "(As an aside, in a development sure to enrage Douglas Adams fans, the average human appears to be between ten and a hundred times as intelligent as a mouse.)"

    ...And then there's Paris. 1k Paris=1 mouse (5 petawatts required)

  56. ian

    Whats in a name

    Yes, the name "Roadrunner" may not inspire fear NOW, but just wait a bit.

    OTOH, if Roadrunner's audio output units suddenly powered up and said "Call me... MASTER!", I for one would immediately welcome our over-weight over-lord.

  57. De

    Prepare for a new kind of war.

    Why is it humanity seems content to destroy itself? Honestly who would think building a computer that could overmatch us is a good idea?

    That’s it, I am amassing a stock pile of homemade EMP grenades.

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