Computer Hardware

This article gives a brief overview of two of the more promising avenues of research into alternative processing.

Alternative Processing

Researchers are exploring many directions in the quest for alternatives to today's silicon-based microprocessors. The goal is high-powered processing unattainable using current technology. Two of the more promising ideas are Qubit and DNA computing.

Qubit Computing

Qubit computing was first theorized in the 1980s, and in February of 2003 researchers in Japan and the Netherlands succeeded in having an electrical current flow both clockwise and counterclockwise in a superconducting ring.

The result is a "qubit" (quantum bit), or a quantum representation of the binary system's two digits, 0 and 1.

Other researchers have achieved the same goal using individual atoms to represent the two binary digits.

What makes quantum processing so interesting is the tremendous processing power it could theoretically deliver. While ten conventional bits can be used to represent any single combination out of 1,024, ten quantum bits could theoretically represent all 1,024 combinations simultaneously.

A 14 quantum bit computer could easily out-perform today's most powerful supercomputers and a quantum computer with thousand of quantum bits could make short work of factoring numbers hundreds of digits long, something for which today's supercomputers would require billions of years to accomplish.

The problem with qubits is that they are ephemeral: initial experiments succeeded in creating the required states for only nanoseconds at a time. However, in November 2013 physicists at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia succeeded in maintaining a qubit for 39 minutes at room temperature. (See "Qubit record moves quantum computing forward", CBC Technology and Science News, 14 Nov 2013).

DNA Computing

In 1994, mathematician Leonard Addleman succeeded in solving basic mathematical problems using DNA material and published his work in Science Magazine (November 11, 1994 issue, page 1021, "Molecular Computation of Solutions to Combinatorial Problems").

Addleman postulated that a computer utilizing the massive number of simultaneous molecular reactions possible with DNA (one teaspoon of DNA could equal the storage capacity of 1 trillion of today's hard drives) could solve extremely complex math problems in a fraction of the time required by today's silicon-based digital computers.

Addleman has been called the father of DNA computing, and his work has been carried on by many other researchers, including Guarnieri and Bancroft of Duke University and researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Isreal, where a programmable DNA computer was demonstrated in 2002 and in 2004 researchers constructed a DNA computer with input and output which could be used to detect and medicate cancerous cells.

Recently, in 2013, researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute in England succeeded in storing and retrieving photographs, text, and audio recordings using DNA. (See "Data storage in DNA becomes a reality", European Bioinformatics Institute Website).

Bruce Miller, 2014