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The folks at Sony and Toshiba corporations have developed a new microprocessor so fast, with so much computing power, that just turning it on is liable to melt snow in the driveway.

Sony calls it the Emotion Engine, and it will be the "brain" of Playstation II, an interactive video game that dramatically raises the bar for virtual-reality experiences. And though the cost to develop the new gaming toy is reported at $2 billion, Sony says it expects to put them under Christmas trees by 2000 for less than $500.

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Compare Playstation II's data-processing speeds with the PC-standard Intel chips. Pentium II hums along at 0.4 billion calculations a second. Pentium III whirs at 2 billion calculations a second. Playstation II is clocked at 6.2 billion calculations a second.

The Emotion Engine is highly specialized as microprocessors go. It's at its peak performance drawing tens of millions of polygons - the math that configures computer graphics on a video screen - updating full-screen images instantaneously. The user experiences visual images of the quality of the movie "Toy Story" in real time.

Bear all this in mind as you read Part 2 of our artificial intelligence series by Laurent Belsie (page 15). It is a business friendly, practical look at how AI research is finding its way out of the lab and into the supermarket.

If business is on the threshold of transforming commerce through AI, imagine what companies will do with consumer-electronics products that go virtual with twice the graphics-generating power of a current supercomputer. At less than $500, Sony's chip will quickly migrate from a joystick in little Johnny's hand zapping bad guys to communicating with every appliance in the house.

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