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Why Labs Love Gaming Hardware


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Not just fun and games

Jonathan Alcorn / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Blasting zombies may seem to have little to do with serious research, but video game hardware is helping scientists in a variety of ways including helping them to unravel the mysteries of the brain.

Specialist programmers have long been repurposing the graphics processing units (GPUs) that power action-packed scenes in games for non-graphics tasks. Now recent advances have opened up GPU-based supercomputing to non-specialists.

GPUs have greater raw computational power than conventional CPUs, but have a more limited repertoire of tasks. Combining hundreds of individual processors, they excel at applying simple repetitive calculations to large bodies of data.

Nicolas Pinto of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is using them in his efforts to crack the brain's formula for recognising objects in images. "The interesting thing about a GPU is that they are made to produce a visual world," he says. "What we want to do is reverse that process.

"When an object moves across your retina, it will obey certain rules, the physical rules of the world," Pinto says. "We are trying to learn these rules from scratch."

From New Scientist
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