Fascinating: Memristor to replace Binary

Dennis Faas's picture

For more than half a century, digital electronic devices have been based on a binary paradigm -- that is, electronic switching of a signal either 'on' (1) or 'off' (0). Everything we know about computing is based on this simple concept.

Now that's about to change.

As first reported this week by our own John Lister, scientists at Hewlett-Packard's Information and Quantum Systems Lab have discovered a new type of electrical resistor: one that has memory properties. The so-called "memristor" exploits the curious memory-like properties of a thin coat of titanium dioxide when a current is passed through it. Unlike conventional componentry however, the 'memory' remains after the current has been removed. Moreover, the device can memorize a 1 or a 0 or any intermediate value in between, making it behave much more like the synapses in nerves in organic life forms. This opens up an entirely new range of applications including an entirely new spectrum of artificial intelligence applications. (Source: nytimes.com)

Electronic theory has long been focused on three basic elemental components: the resistor (that resists current), the capacitor (that stores current), and inductors (that absorb or pass current). As early as 1971, the memristor, a fourth element with properties different than the conventional three, was predicted on the basis of some unexplained electronic behavior. The HP research group entitled their announcement as "The Missing Memristor Found."

But what does this really mean for science and technology?

The benefits of the new device are many. Because it does not require power to maintain its memory, it opens up the possibilities of very fast computing devices which consume far less power. The ability to store intermediate values, however, could also pave the way to a completely different class of computing capabilities including those that are biological in nature such as visual and voice recognition. (Source: physorg.com)

Or the effect could be much, much more. In 1947, when William Shockley's team demonstrated the first transistor, they had no possibility of understanding the impact it would have on the world. Suppose the memristor were to have the equivalent effect?

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