Step aside, mortals! The machines have arrived to unscramble our logic cubes, and their solve times are accelerating faster than a starship with a Traveler-aided warp drive.
Earlier this month, two software engineers from Kansas, Missouri, Jay Flatland (no connection to the hypothetical two-dimensional world as far as we know) and Paul Rose, built a Rubik’s Cube-solving machine that can solve a standard 3×3 cube in 1.047 seconds, or about the same amount of time it takes to say the phrase “hasta la vista, human competition.” For comparison, the fastest human on record, teenage speedcuber Lucas Etter, accomplished his world-record solve in 4.90 seconds, or about five times slower than Flatland and Rose’s machine. (Watch Etter in action in the video below.)
Perhaps the real story here is how quickly the Rubik’s Cube-solving machines are evolving. This new world record solve time is more than twice as fast as the previous record, which was set at 2.39 seconds by a student-built machine in Florida. In November.
In other words, Rubik’s Cube-solving machines have halved their solve times in less than 90 days.
Flatland and Rose’s machine uses “four USB webcams to determine the state of the cube,” which then feed that information into a computer algorithm, determines the movements of the six stepper motors surrounding the cube, and unscrambles it. This entire process, from determining the state of the cube to final solved state, all happens in that don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it 1.047 seconds.
Although Flatland and Rose’s machine’s solve time is lightning fast, it still has an extraordinarily limited function—it solves Rubik’s Cubes. It isn’t really revolutionary in terms of artificial intelligence or machine problem solving. The machine has narrow artificial intelligence like IBM’s Deep Blue, the super computer that beat then world chess champ Garry Kasparov back in the 90s. But even though they’re limited in their functionality, it’s still mind-bending to see how quickly these machines can be improved.
After watching the machine in action, one thing seems certain: humans won’t ever be able to compete with machines’ solve times. Unless… we upgrade our humans… we do know a certain “Robot Devil” known to exchange his hands with humans from time to time. Perhaps there’s some kind of deal we can make with him. That can only turn out well, right?
What do you think about this Rubik’s Cube-solving machine? Is it an extraordinary technological feat, or too limited in its function to stand out as something notable? Let us know in the comments section below!
Image: Jay Flatland