Sunday, May 24, 2009

Expanding notion of Computing

As we push to extend inorganic Moore’s Law computing to ever-smaller nodes, and simultaneously attempt to understand and manipulate existing high-performance nanoscale computers known as biology, it is becoming obvious that the notion of computing is expanding. The definition, models and realms of computation are all being extended.

Computing models are growing
At the most basic level, how to do computing (the computing model) is certainly changing. As illustrated in Figure 1, the traditional linear Von Neumann model is being extended with new materials, 3D architectures, molecular electronics and solar transistors. Novel computing models are being investigated such as quantum computing, parallel architectures, cloud computing, liquid computing and the cell broadband architecture like that used in the IBM Roadrunner supercomputer. Biological computing models and biology as a substrate are also under exploration with 3D DNA nanotechnology, DNA computing, biosensors, synthetic biology, cellular colonies and bacterial intelligence, and the discovery of novel computing paradigms existing in biology such as the topological equations by which ciliate DNA is encrypted.

Figure 1. Evolving computational models (source)

Computing definition and realms are growing
At another level, subtly but importantly, where to do computing is changing from specialized locations the size of a large room in the 1970s to the destktop to the laptop, netbook and mobile device and smartphone. At present computers are still made of inorganic materials but introducing a variety of organic materials computing mechisms helps to expand the definition of what computing is. Ubiquitous sensors, personalized home electricity monitors, self-adjusting biofuels, molecular motors and biological computers do not sound like the traditional concept of computing. True next-generation drugs could be in the form of molecular machines. Organic components or organic/inorganic hybrid components, as the distinction dissolves, could be added to many object such as the smartphone. A mini-NMR or mini-Imager for mobile medical diagnostics from a disposable finger-prick blood sample would be an obvious addition.

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