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Dawn of a new epoch

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Dawn of a new epoch


- Balaji Narasimhan



HP's molecular computing initiatives could create computers that are tremendously powerful. What can we do with them?


The IT industry is known for its blazing speed, but it is also salutary for us to pause once in a while and realize that the foundations are pretty ancient. The cornerstone of modern computing rests on electronics, and the base of this is the transistor, which was invented by Dr. John Bardeen, Dr. Walter Brattain, and Dr. William Shockley in 1947, when India gained independence. So monumental was their achievement that they got the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956.


Since then, the transistor has remained the mainstay of modern computing. Sure, they have improved, shrunk, and become more powerful, but the fundamental design has not changed.





Until now, that is.


HP has come up with an innovative new way of doing things. Its Quantum Science Research (QSR) Group has come up with an entity called the "crossbar latch," which can do what in tech jargon is called a NOT operation.


Big deal, you say? Well, again, going back to the basics, AND, OR, and NOT are the three building blocks of computing logic. Just as builders architect marvels using humble bricks, similarly, computer scientists can put together advanced computers with devices that can


manipulate these basic functions.


HP now needs to find out how to put all the pieces together in a functional, economical, and reliable package, but these are nitty-gritty issues that can be resolved. Once it is done, we would have reached the fourth foundation of electronic devices. Just as vacuum tubes replaced electromagnetic relays, and were replaced by transistors, HP's new invention will one day replace transistors.


And the invention has not come a day too soon. Today, we have reached the limits of what transistors can do, and researchers fear that, in another decade, they could reach the edge, and not be able to deliver increased performance. However, now, we may not have reason to fear, because the new invention will revolutionize computing, and enable the creation of computers that are immensely powerful when compared to today's machines.


Of course, we laymen can allow the scientific geniuses to worry about the details. Instead, let us think - what are the possible uses for such computers? Here is a small list:


• Animation: This is one area that simply guzzles computing power. To create some of the advanced animation in today's cutting-edge movies, graphic experts use a computer "farm" that consists of hundreds of advanced graphic workstations. However, the QSR's invention may create a single computer that is powerful enough to handle all these complex calculations.

• Weather forecasting: This is another field that demands more computing power than is available today. We could possibly model the climate way back from the Ice age to 2,000 years into the future, and see how things like global warming will affect the climate.

• Safety: Even the cars of today contain computers, which do rudimentary things. Perhaps, with such an invention, tomorrow's cars could be fully accident-proof, and designed to stop well before anything threatens the occupants. Maybe, nobody will ever die in an accident ever after!

• Prediction: Let's face it, the Dec 26 2004 tsunami proved that we are still far away from predicting earthquakes with accuracy. Maybe, the added computing power could make this much simpler to predict. Just imagine, one day, we could know about an earthquake months before it hits us!

• Space technologies: Do extra terrestrials exist? SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has been researching this for a while, using the combined processing power of thousands of computers. If each computer was a thousand times more powerful, what could we do? We may end up chatting with the Spidgots of Planet Zonzula in the Fanewjroi dimension sooner than you think!

• Genomics: We are getting closer and closer, but the end is still far. Advanced computing could make this a lot easier, and help us to give unique, tailor-made solutions for each patient based on his genetic requirements, and perhaps find a cure for incurable diseases.

• Intelligent computing: Most of today's attempts have not been very commendable, but throw more power, and you could be surprised by what you can do.


Of course, the above list is merely indicative, and when the technology goes live, we could have solutions that make the above list seem old-fashioned. But, be it as it may, HP's creation is really outstanding, and one of the few inventions that can change the world.

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