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Tech: Stuff Of Life Could Revolutionise Computing

Posted by Mark Cantrell on April 14, 2017 at 4:10 PM

Biology’s source code heralds super-computing revolution

 

It's the digital revolution, but not as we know it – so forget silicon chips, writes Mark Cantrell. Scientists at Manchester University claim that the stuff of genes, DNA, heralds the next leap in computer technology

 

Computers that are faster and smarter than anything based on current technology may become possible by exploiting the properties of a complex polymer that is the 'source code' of life itself – DNA.


Researchers from the University of Manchester have show that it is possible to build a new super-fast form of computer using the stuff of genes so that it will “grow as it computes”. The conceptual breakthrough heralds a revolution in computer technology, it is claimed.


Professor Ross D King and his team have demonstrated for the first time the feasibility of engineering a so-called non-deterministic universal Turing machine (NUTM), and their research is to be published in the prestigious Journal of the Royal Society Interface.


The theoretical properties of such a computing machine, including its exponential boost in speed over electronic and quantum computers, have apparently been well understood for many years – but the Manchester breakthrough demonstrates that it is actually possible to physically create a NUTM using DNA molecules.


“Imagine a computer is searching a maze and comes to a choice point, one path leading left, the other right,” said Professor King, from Manchester’s School of Computer Science. “Electronic computers need to choose which path to follow first. But our new computer doesn’t need to choose, for it can replicate itself and follow both paths at the same time, thus finding the answer faster.


“This ‘magical’ property is possible because the computer’s processors are made of DNA rather than silicon chips. All electronic computers have a fixed number of chips. Quantum computers are an exciting other form of computer, and they can also follow both paths in a maze, but only if the maze has certain symmetries, which greatly limits their use.


“As DNA molecules are very small, a desktop computer could potentially utilize more processors than all the electronic computers in the world combined – and therefore outperform the world’s current fastest supercomputer, while consuming a tiny fraction of its energy.”


The University of Manchester is famous for its connection with Alan Turing – the founder of computer science – and for creating the first stored memory electronic computer.


Turing’s greatest achievement was inventing the concept of a universal Turing machine (UTM) – a computer that can be programmed to compute anything any other computer can compute. Electronic computers are a form of UTM, but no quantum UTM has yet been built, the university said.


“This new research builds on both these pioneering foundations,” added Professor King. “Our computer’s ability to grow as it computes makes it faster than any other form of computer, and enables the solution of many computational problems previously considered impossible.”


So, that's Moore's Law out of the equation, then? Once they actually build one of these things, that is.

MC


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