Let computers make the decisions

Intel is working on ways to enable computers to anticipate user needs and act on their behalf - a move that could help companies...

Intel is working on ways to enable computers to anticipate user needs and act on their behalf - a move that could help companies cut costs in the supply chain, writes Daniel Thomas.

Despite Intel's optimism, analysts have cast doubt on its "Proactive Computing" strategy, saying the concept is "strictly blue sky" at this stage and suggesting it will only be used in scientific and medical fields.

Proactive Computing, announced at the Intel Developer Forum in the US last week, aims to "extend the role of computers way beyond the office", said David Tennenhouse, Intel's vice-president and director of research.

He explained that Intel is developing sensors and actuators that will allow computers to judge "biological details", such as the environment around them. These will enable processors to speculatively load the next instruction into the pipeline, with no human interaction.

Brian Gammage, an analyst at Gartner Group, said Proactive Computing is too speculative at the moment for actual business use. "A human being will always need to arbitrate and make a decision - computers cannot dissect information well enough," he said. "Computers have been doing branch prediction for years and it has proved to be inefficient."

Intel is also developing an Ultra Wideband Radio network, based on new antennas and a series of sensors that will allow computers to share information and "reduce uncertainty" in the supply chain.

Using radio-enabled sensors will allow companies to track any supply chain objects and their current status more accurately, as well as mapping tangible objects, said Tennenhouse.

Elsewhere at the conference, Intel announced the release of the 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, with a warning to IT managers to look to their future processing needs.

Following the failure of the current Pentium 4 chips to gain significant sales, Louis Burns, vice-president and general manager for Intel's desktop platforms group, warned that companies must allow for the capability they will require in the future.

"IT managers cannot predict the problems they will be facing three years down the line," he said. "They should buy the performance they will need over the next two to three years to protect their investment."

However, Gammage dismissed the argument as being out of step with current market trends and financial constraints.

For most businesses, 1GHz to 1.3GHz processing power is all that will be needed, but the faster chips, such as the new Pentium 4s, offer additional processing power for compute-intensive applications such as digital imaging.

Gammage said IT managers do need to look ahead but added that he doubts whether the 2GHz chips will be the choice of most businesses. "The market will go with the lower-cost P4 when the Pentium III comes off the roadmap at the end of this quarter," he said.

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