Puzzles have this paradoxical appeal where no matter how much they give the human mind fits, people can’t seem to put them down. Part of this is a testament to the degree in which we pride ourselves as relentless problem-solvers. But for some of life’s most perplexing problems, it’s becoming more apparent that we’re better off handing them off to computers.
A recent demonstration of this can be seen in a video released last week in which a smartphone-powered robot solved the legendary Rubik’s cube in 5.352 second flat, beating the world record of 5.66 seconds set by Feliks Zemdegs (a human). David Gilday and Mike Dobson built the Cubestormer II by combining the processing power of a Samsung Galaxy S II and Lego’s Mindstorm NXT, robotic kits that can be programmed and pieced together in a variety of configurations.
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However, the secret to the Cubestormer II’s prowess is a two-phase algorithm. Through the smartphone camera, it quickly probes the cube to determine the most optimal combination of moves. All this is calibrated simultaneously as the computer progresses through each decision, which is displayed three-dimensionally on the touchscreen.
Alright, so the computer beat the human record by a fraction of a second. Big deal you say. The big difference in this case, though, was that while the person who got to inspect each side of the cube prior to accomplishing his feat, the machine does it on the fly. Now take that silly humans!
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