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Wireless Networking Programming Hardware Technology

Researchers Want To Turn Your Entire House Into a Co-Processor Using the Local Wi-Fi Signal (arstechnica.com) 102

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Ars Technica: Researchers are proposing an idea to make your computer bigger. They are suggesting an extreme and awesome form of co-processing. They want to turn your entire house into a co-processor using the local Wi-Fi signal. Why, you may be asking, do we even want to do this in the first place? The real answer is to see if we can. But the answer given to funding agencies is thermal management. In a modern processor, if all the transistors were working all the time, it would be impossible to keep the chip cool. Instead, portions of the chip are put to sleep, even if that might mean slowing up a computation. But if, like we do with video cards, we farm out a large portion of certain calculations to a separate device, we might be able to make better use of the available silicon.

So, how do you compute with Wi-Fi in your bedroom? The basic premise is that waves already perform computations as they mix with each other, it's just that those computations are random unless we make some effort to control them. When two waves overlap, we measure the combination of the two: the amplitude of one wave is added to the amplitude of the other. Depending on the history of the two waves, one may have a negative amplitude, while the other may have a positive amplitude, allowing for simple computation. The idea here is to control the path that each wave takes so that, when they're added together, they perform the exact computation that we want them to. The classic example is the Fourier transform. A Fourier transform takes an object and breaks it down into a set of waves. If these waves are added together, the object is rebuilt. You can see an example of this in the animation here.

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Researchers Want To Turn Your Entire House Into a Co-Processor Using the Local Wi-Fi Signal

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  • For the record... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2018 @11:35PM (#56539706)

    Whoever wrote this proposal is dumb as fuck

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @12:32AM (#56539840) Journal

      The people who wrote this proposal got tax payers to pay their next two years expenses while they fart around with a wifi router.

      The bureaucrat who approved it and the tax payers who are funding it might be dumb as fuck, however.

      • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @02:48AM (#56540118)

        And just like all other science which sounds like a bullshit waste of time when it is done it may also yield some new understandings of how interacting radio signals can be used for practical purposes.

        Sidenote: Does anyone know of a news for nerds site? I'm looking for a site which specialises in technology and has an interested readership. All I can seem to find is a bunch of negative luddites who are more interested in blaming the entire world on governments.

        • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @02:58AM (#56540136) Journal

          Let me know if you find such a site.

          I COULD extend my old Tampermonkey script to hide all of thr annoying people, or only show comments from people in my whitelist.

          I made it years ago to make that ADP or whatever guy disappear from my browser. That guy who could never understand why in 1982 the world switched from hosts files to DNS. Seen that dude lately? I vanished him with Tampermonkey about three or four years ago.

        • And just like all other science which sounds like a bullshit waste of time when it is done it may also yield some new understandings of how interacting radio signals can be used for practical purposes.

          Bullshit.

          What this article claims is that complex calculations (like fourier transformations) can be computed, and their results captured, based on carefully controlling the interaction of WiFi (or other RF) signals. I suppose it could be argued that this could create a form of analog computer, but the article implies that any calculation might be fair game, up to (I assume) mining crypto currency.

          Bottom line, they seem to be proposing that we take several small processors, use them to carefully modulate/re

        • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @10:36AM (#56541474)

          People have been farting around with optical processing ever since the laser was invented. In the 1980 JPL used optical correlators for image processing. Faster than any computer back in the 1980s.

          These days it's used routinely to have wave pattern defined sub-cells on cellular towers. That's not the same thing as beam steering because it's relying on reflections.

          Apple's homepod sounds better than one can imagine because that's what it is doing too.

          And of course seeing around corners with scattered light is still an active area.

          This particular application is utterly moronic for the simple reason that to do any of the above you need a lot of antennas, There just are not a lot of antennas in a house

          • Most wifi routers come with multiple antennas onboard now. What makes this moronic in my opinion is that the transistor count to handle all that waveform lifting is going to exceed the count to simply perform the operations. Not to mention the RF interference this system is going to cause.
          • This particular application is utterly moronic

            ALL particular applications are utterly moronic in the lab. It's the underlying principles that are discovered that end up forming the most benefits.

        • Well whatever entity is claiming authoritative control is responsible and liable for all outcomes in their declared territory. Such as a trade-off for controlling all is now your fault. However you're right everything has gone political lately that's probably because from people noticing the all the tech is pointless and politics and business interests sabotage implementing it properly in basic infrastructure.
        • As a RF/Microwave design engineer of 20 years I found the summary and article to be pretty incoherent.

          As best I could discern that gist of things through the mangled technobabble and hype the argument is that if you can fully map an interference pattern between two sources you can then perform some calculations by measuring the resulting new interference pattern between two new signals. I sort of see what they are going after, but many details are lacking as to who you make this work.

          Caveats:
          1) Both signa

        • Wrong, there is nothing new to be learned about "interacting radio waves' for the frequencies in question in air. Done deal a century ago, study electromagnetics and learn why.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I will just install a quantum computer emulator on my microwave and be done with it.. then it can send its magic quantum waves directly to my computer and it can turn it into a rainbow colored unicorn that resembles a my little pony.

      • Yeah! It's not like anything has ever come of research into radio waves. It's wasted money!

        Radar

        FM Radio

        TV

        HAM

        P.S. You are an idiot.

        • They propose using several computers to regulate RF emissions and an additional computer to detect/analyze the resulting interference to perform a calculation that could be performed trivially by any of the individual computers in the experiment.

          It's like you've never heard of Rube Goldberg.

    • I learned from the article that "wi-fi" is a synonym for radio waves. I feel smarter already.

    • Actually, the Ars Technica "journalist" is dumb as fuck and full of shit.

      The actual paper is about replacing expensive meta-materials with less expensive
      common materials in wave transmission research.

      That's all. The paper says fuck all about doing computing with household routers.
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2018 @11:36PM (#56539710)

    It's supposed to be April 1st. That's why they call it "April Fools". You can't run this stuff the first of every month. Only April.

    • It may have been posted on May 1st here, but maybe BeauHD is somewhere that is in the timezone UTC-720 where it is April 1. Either that or 482 billion miles away.
  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2018 @11:54PM (#56539756) Journal
    So I can eat it when people are debating about the microwave screwing up their coprocessor - or not...
  • by az-saguaro ( 1231754 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @12:17AM (#56539818)

    The end of the first paragraph in the post states "But if, like we do with video cards, we farm out a large portion of certain calculations to a separate device, we might be able to make better use of the available silicon." What I was expecting at that point was an idea in distributed computing. Your processor idles down or else is overwhelmed by a high bandwidth task, so it offloads portions of the job to your refrigerator, cell phone, tablet, washing machine, other desktops. you car, etc. - anything that can be accessed by IoT or peer-to-peer networking or whatever. That makes sense, kind of, if you are doing supercomputing tasks or cryptocurrency mining at home.

    However, this turns out to be an idea about using multiple wifi antennas to create interference patterns from which FFT's can decode the dataset - kind of a wifi holography. The problem is that anyone who moves the desk or couch, leaves their bicycle in the room, puts a metal kitchen bowl on a table, turns on a laptop, has their Aunt Tillie sitting in the wrong place, or even just wears a tinfoil hat to tune in or tune out other strange ideas will trash the computation.

    It used to be that with relatively few TV channels and finite numbers of radio stations and newspapers, that news could be filtered or curated to things of genuine significance. Now, with seemingly unlimited media outlets, any idea or premature utterance can become "news". A century ago, we fantasized about going to the moon, and then it happened. Just half a century ago, we fantasized about handheld computers and wrist watch televisions, and then it happened. So, ideas can come to fruition, so we cannot be too dismissive. This one however seems to be a big "so what", and "what the hell would one use it for?"

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "What I was expecting at that point..."

      If you had kept reading, your expectations would have become much, much, lower. The whole thing seems to have been written by a middle-schooler armed with a random punctuation generator.
    • I'm also wondering about the real-world use of all this. Adding waveforms together is really just that - adding. It seems that asking some waves to do some algebra or trig seems like a bit too much to ask. So I wonder how much processing you could really offload with this...?

      • "Adding waveforms together is really just that - adding."

        There are a lot of reasons this is a terrible plan but that isn't one of them. It has been proven that every logical operation can be performed with negated binary addition. It may not be the most efficient way but it can be done.

        https://www.allaboutcircuits.com/technical-articles/universal-logic-gates/
        • every logical operation can also be performed with an abacus. So what? article proposes a similarly stupid thing, and proposing doing calculations that way is stupid, slow, inefficient and pointless

          • So... as I said in the comment you responded to, this is a terrible idea but the flaw is not as suggested by the GP that the modification to waveforms is addition.

            I said "... this is a terrible plan... It may not be the most efficient way" You seem to be rephrasing the same sentiment I express but with a tone implying it is somehow an argument against what I said.

            By the way, if we are talking about using universal logic operators rather than this wifi radio proposal on the whole you should be aware that for
  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @12:26AM (#56539830)

    beowulf cluster. Seriously Slashdot, you're slipping.

    So basically distcc [github.com], icecc [github.com], ore any of a number of other tools?

  • Your cells and DNA will just love getting bathed in constant WIFI stimulation...
  • If I were the funding agency, this would be reected instantly. You can heat your house better by doing random switchings of transistors rather than this round about way. It would have been better if these researchers were honest in their request. I am not even sure they have any case or even trivial computation like Fourier transform through their method.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The arxiv abstract has very little to do with what the article blurb says.

  • Magical thinking. Perhaps they could sell a skull cap for my cat? Wouldn't want any processing power going to waste.

  • The new law is any advance in computing power will be used for crypto mining, until the difficulty adjusts bringing back an equilibrium.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Analog computation is always faster than digital...

    The problem though, is calibration. Analog computers precision always drift and requires yet more analog computing to try and compensate... The end result is about 4 digits of precision, on average...

    Slightly better than a slide rule...

  • combined with rotational polarization, allowing for a more thorough fourier dissociation.
  • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @08:10AM (#56540794)
    Um, what?
  • I guess in this particular case "being bricked" is a good thing for the device.

  • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @09:15AM (#56541068) Homepage Journal

    Why, you may be asking, do we even want to do this in the first place? The real answer is to see if we can. But the answer given to funding agencies is thermal management. In a modern processor, if all the transistors were working all the time, it would be impossible to keep the chip cool.

    Because there is simply no way to cool a modern CPU with it's millions of active transistors!

    Apparently this research was approved by people that never heard of thermal paste and cpu fans.

    • Because there is simply no way to cool a modern CPU with it's millions of active transistors!
      Apparently this research was approved by people that never heard of thermal paste and cpu fans.

      Each CPU core is broken up into a number of functional units. Different CISC instructions are broken down into multiple micro-operations, which are executed on functional units. Each core can handle one or two contexts at once, meaning that it's working on retiring one or two instructions at a time, which in turn means that it's got one or two functional units active at a time. Modern transistors are very good both at resisting and conducting, but they still have a state in between where they are doing both

  • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @10:12AM (#56541346)

    Honey, could you move the couch an inch to the right? I'm working on my perpetual motion machine calculations. I think I almost have it!

  • Uh, no. No, that's not it at all, electromagnetic waves don't interact with each other. When they collide with matter the sum of their energy is imparted to the thing they're colliding with, with the sum being affected both by the amplitude and phase of the waves relative to each other.

    Ignore the sensational Ars article (which is kind of shocking in itself) and look at the paper. The actual proposal is less "use your house as a coprocessor!" and more, "one of the limiting factors in optical computing resear

    • Wow, that's nothing the same as the summary or headline at all. But at least it sounds actually useful.

  • ... had the solution for the Grand Unified Theory. And then my daughter turned on her hair dryer.

  • What the fuck did I just read? What a load of ignorant crap.

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.

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