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Computing in 2012: A Lexicon

A glossary of the terms you will need to know to discuss postmillennial info tech:

ARTIFICIAL LIFE, OR A-LIFE
Digital creations that are born, live, replicate, and die in computer-generated environments. (See Genetic Algorithm.)

AVATARS
Software representations of computer users as they appear to others in shared virtual spaces. May physically resemble a human--but that's up to the user.

BUCKYBALLS AND BUCKYTUBES
(ALSO CALLED FULLERENES)
Superhard carbon molecules, shaped like spheres and tubes, that are key materials in nanotechnology. Some resemble the geodesic domes of H. Buckminster Fuller.

COMPLEX ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS
Systems consisting of many individuals or ''agents'' that interact with one another, learn, and behave in unpredicted ways. Typical examples: ant colonies, the stock market, the immune system, and simulated ''swarms'' of agents.

EMERGENT BEHAVIOR
The unpredicted results--good or bad--that arise from the interaction of agents in complex systems.

FIELD-PROGRAMMABLE GATE ARRAY (FPGA)
Extremely versatile type of custom chips that can be reprogrammed repeatedly for new applications.

FORCE FEEDBACK
The next big thing in virtual reality. It's a simulated condition in which computer controllers or other parts respond to touch with a touch of their own--such as a steering wheel that jumps with each bump in a virtual road.

GENETIC ALGORITHM
A mathematical formula--usually generated through random, computer-generated mutations--that can evolve and adapt. The algorithms can be generated as parallel ''solutions'' to problems. Then poor solutions ''die off,'' leaving the more efficient ones.

INTELLIGENT AGENTS
Software programs that autonomously do the user's bidding, such as finding data or sorting E-mail. More sophisticated versions can be dispatched across networks.

INTERFACE
Whatever a computer user looks at, talks to, or manipulates to control the machine. Windows 95 and Netscape Navigator are the dominant graphical interfaces today. In 15 years, sound and touch will play a larger role.

NANO-
One billionth. In other words, extremely small or fast, depending upon what follows. ''Nanotechnology'' refers to useful structures small enough to be measured in nanometers.

REAL TIME
Responding to constantly changing circumstances with the shortest possible delay. Chips that manage processes on an assembly line, for example, are called ''real-time'' controllers.



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