October 3, 2001   

   Neurons battle to a draw
Biological brains can handle much more information than artificial ones, even when they're the same size. Nature's advantage seems to come from setting each neuron against the others and making sure that no one wins. Research on locusts' sense of smell could lead to big improvements in robots, computer vision and a host of other pattern recognition programs.
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Quantum crypto gear shrinks
Quantum cryptography promises truly unbreakable codes, and it looks like the science is pretty much worked out. Replacing huge laboratory lasers with the kind that fit on circuit boards could make perfectly secure communications ready for prime time within a few years.

Toy shows bare bones of walking
Trying to build two-legged, walking robots by copying human muscles, nerves and brains is tremendously difficult. A simple tinker toy, however, shows that walking is largely a matter of gravity.

Tiny jaws snatch cells
A lot of medical research involves injecting things into individual blood cells, a tedious task usually done by hand. A nasty looking set of tiny teeth promises to automate the process.

Plastic mix helps shrink circuits
A mix of two plastics automatically creates a microscopic template for building a key microchip component. Best of all, chipmakers won't have to abandon their billion dollar factories to use the new technique.

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