As mentioned in Wired, the standard performance gauge of new electronic devices used to be whether or not it could run Doom. Maybe someday the test will be, can it beat a human in chess?
Whenever I feel like thinking too hard and confusing myself into stopping, I read about artificial intelligence and the research projects associated with it. As technology allows us to scale things down to a human level, the future is not in room-sized supercomputers that can crush master chess players with brute force. The scary A.I. of the future would do that in a $10 handheld device bought at Toys-R-Us.
A few years ago, the Alice Bot (a language-processing chatbot) won the Loebner Prize for demonstrating the most humanlike A.I. ability. I, Robot-style conspirators need not worry, though, as the mechanistic aspects were blown wide open when the bot was set up to chat with itself. The results are quite funny.
Item: Left Behind at the Fishbowl deserves a plug. It's a great cross-section of (generally incompetent) student activity.