Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The "Memristor" will revolutionize computing

No more hard drives and ram. Faster speeds and much more storage:

From the Youtube page:
Kwasi5179 — November 18, 2008 — Mark my words, this will VASTLY change the world... The memristor is the fourth element in integrated circuitry. Scientists are discovering the mathematic equations used to govern memristors are similiar to those which govern synapses in the brain.

In addition, memristors do not "forget" the voltage charge channeled through them. This will yeild several billion-fold times the capacity/performance than current hard drives. That, however, is just one of the multitude of products yet to utilize this incredible new discovery. (posted: 11/18/08)

More from Wikipedia: Potential applications
[...] Williams' solid-state memristors can be combined into devices called crossbar latches, which could replace transistors in future computers, taking up a much smaller area.

They can also be fashioned into non-volatile solid-state memory, which would allow greater data density than hard drives with access times potentially similar to DRAM, replacing both components.[34] HP prototyped a crossbar latch memory using the devices that can fit 100 gigabits in a square centimeter, and has designed a highly scalable 3D design (consisting of up to 1000 layers or 1 petabit in a cubic CM)[26].[8] HP has reported that its version of the memristor is currently about one-tenth the speed of DRAM.[35] The devices' resistance would be read with alternating current so that they do not affect the stored value.[36]

Some patents related to memristors appear to include applications in programmable logic,[37] signal processing,[38] neural networks,[39] and control systems.[40]

Recently, a simple electronic circuit[41] consisting of an LC network and a memristor was used to model experiments on adaptive behavior of unicellular organisms.[42] It was shown that the electronic circuit subjected to a train of periodic pulses learns and anticipates the next pulse to come, similarly to the behavior of slime molds Physarum polycephalum subjected to periodic changes of environment.[42] Such a learning circuit may find applications, e.g., in pattern recognition. [...]

How about an example? Here's one:

Cat Brain: A Step Toward the Electronic Equivalent
ScienceDaily (Apr. 15, 2010) — A cat can recognize a face faster and more efficiently than a supercomputer. That's one reason a feline brain is the model for a biologically-inspired computer project involving the University of Michigan.

U-M computer engineer Wei Lu has taken a step toward developing this revolutionary type of machine that could be capable of learning and recognizing, as well as making more complex decisions and performing more tasks simultaneously than conventional computers can.

Lu previously built a "memristor," a device that replaces a traditional transistor and acts like a biological synapse, remembering past voltages it was subjected to. Now, he has demonstrated that this memristor can connect conventional circuits and support a process that is the basis for memory and learning in biological systems.


In a conventional computer, logic and memory functions are located at different parts of the circuit and each computing unit is only connected to a handful of neighbors in the circuit. As a result, conventional computers execute code in a linear fashion, line by line, Lu said. They are excellent at performing relatively simple tasks with limited variables.

But a brain can perform many operations simultaneously, or in parallel. That's how we can recognize a face in an instant, but even a supercomputer would take much, much longer and consume much more energy in doing so.

So far, Lu has connected two electronic circuits with one memristor. He has demonstrated that this system is capable of a memory and learning process called "spike timing dependent plasticity." This type of plasticity refers to the ability of connections between neurons to become stronger based on when they are stimulated in relation to each other. Spike timing dependent plasticity is thought to be the basis for memory and learning in mammalian brains.

"We show that we can use voltage timing to gradually increase or decrease the electrical conductance in this memristor-based system. In our brains, similar changes in synapse conductance essentially give rise to long term memory," Lu said.

The next step is to build a larger system, Lu said. His goal is achieve the sophistication of a supercomputer in a machine the size of a two-liter beverage container. That could be several years away. [...]

Impressive. But what will it mean for personal computers that we are using now? How will it change things?

HP Labs Outlines Breakthroughs in Memristor Chip Research
A memristor, basically a resistor with memory, seems to have more capabilities than anybody knew. HP Labs reports finding that a memristor can perform logic, potentially enabling computation to be performed in chips where data is stored. This could mean a radical change in the way IT is designed and built.

At the Flash Memory Summit in August 2009, updates on several new technologies involving NAND flash were presented to conference attendees. One of them was given by Stan Williams, Hewlett-Packard senior fellow and director of Quantum Science Research, and it involved something called the "memristor," a term condensed from "memory resistor."

On that day, Williams described the memristor this way: "This is sort of the missing element of the processor puzzle. It takes its place alongside the resistor, capacitor and inductor [as the fourth basic circuit element in chip engineering]. And it could change the way we do IT."

In summary, let's just say adding a memristor to a solid-state NAND flash drive can be like putting it on steroids.

Since flash media already owns the fastest I/O speeds known to IT science, increasing that speed tenfold or by a higher magnitude—HP's conservative estimate at this time—is certainly an intriguing proposition for processor engineers and IT systems makers.

On April 8, HP Labs published an update on advances in memristor research. These findings are also detailed in a paper published the same week in the journal "Nature" and written by Williams and five other researchers who work at HP's Information and Quantum Systems Laboratory, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

HP Labs has six other locations around the world, in Bangalore, India; Beijing; Haifa, Israel; Bristol, England; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Fusionopolis, Singapore.

Following two years of research, Williams and his team discovered that the memristor has more capabilities than was previously thought. The team said in its report that "in addition to being useful in storage devices, the memristor can perform logic, enabling computation to one day be performed in chips where data is stored, rather than on a specialized central processing unit." [...]

It sounds great. The only question is... when does it become available to the consumer? Soon:
—HP has created development-ready architectures for memory chips using memristors and believes it is possible that devices incorporating the element could come to market within the next few years."

—HP researchers also have designed a new architecture within which multiple layers of memristor memory can be stacked on top of each other in a single chip. In five years, such chips could be used to create handheld devices that offer ten times greater embedded memory than exists today or to power supercomputers that allow work like movie rendering and genomic research to be done dramatically faster than Moore's Law suggests is possible.

—Eventually, memristor-based processors might replace the silicon in the smart display screens found in e-readers and could one day even become the successors to silicon on a larger scale.

—Memristors require less energy to operate and are faster than present solid-state storage technologies such as flash memory, and they can store at least twice as much data in the same area.

—Memristors are virtually immune toradiation, which can disrupt transistor-based technologies—making them an attractive way to enable ever smaller but ever more powerful devices.

—Because they do not "forget," memristors can enable [the creation of] computers that turn on and off like a light switch. [...]

Read the whole thing. It all has far reaching implications for fundamentally changing computer design.

Way to go, HP!

One more video:


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