RAM

La Memristor al posto della RAM

pc_brain2 Ho già avuto modo di segnalare le due innovazione del 2008 che mi hanno colpito di più tra quelle apparse nella top-ten stilata dal Wired.

Dopo essermi soffermato sui Chip edibili, in questo post riprendo il discorso per qualche spunto di riflessione sull’invenzione delle Memristor.

Frutto di ricerche effettuate presso i laboratori di HP, le Memristor (ovvero «Memory Resistor») sono destinate a soppiantare le RAM, attualmente in uso su ogni computer. A differenza di queste ultime, le Memristor consentono di mantenere in memoria i dati trattati ed i processi effettuati dal computer prima dell’operazione di spegnimento.

A parte il recupero in termini di efficienza (per via del fatto che l’accensione del PC sarà istantanea, senza necessità di attendere gli attuali lunghi tempi di avvio), ciò che più mi colpisce è la possibilità di replicare una delle caratteristiche fondamentali del cervello umano: mantenere la memoria di ciò che si sta facendo, senza dover ripartire sempre da capo.

Le Memristor, infatti, sono una sorta di RAM non volatile, che consente di riprendere l’operatività del PC dal medesimo punto in cui lo si è lasciato. Le applicazione che ne possono derivare sono molteplici ed al limite del futuribile.

Questo tipo di tecnologie lascia ampio spazio alle applicazioni cibernetiche e robotiche, volte a replicare le funzionalità del cervello umano o del comportamento umano (sul tema si veda, ad esempio, il Programma SyNAPSE del DARPA, di cui ha fatto il resoconto Luca Annunziata su Punto-Informatico).

Con questa premessa, ripromettendo di proseguire il discorso sull’evoluzione delle tecnologie per discutere su come si sta evolvendo la nostra società (Information Society) e su come andrebbe affrontato il discorso giuridico per regolamentarla (ICT Law), riporto di seguito i passaggi che più mi hanno colpito dell’articolo della rivista Wired sulle Memristor, lasciandovi al link che vi ho segnalato per una lettura completa:

Researchers at HP Labs have built the first working prototypes of an important new electronic component that may lead to instant-on PCs as well as analog computers that process information the way the human brain does.

(…)

Researchers believe the discovery will pave the way for instant-on PCs, more energy-efficient computers, and new analog computers that can process and associate information in a manner similar to that of the human brain.

According to R. Stanley Williams, one of four researchers at HP Labs’ Information and Quantum Systems Lab who made the discovery, the most interesting characteristic of a memristor device is that it remembers the amount of charge that flows through it.

Indeed, Chua’s original idea was that the resistance of a memristor would depend upon how much charge has gone through the device. In other words, you can flow the charge in one direction and the resistance will increase. If you push the charge in the opposite direction it will decrease. Put simply, the resistance of the devices at any point in time is a function of history of the device –- or how much charge went through it either forwards or backwards. That simple idea, now that it has been proven, will have profound effect on computing and computer science.

“Part of what’s going to come out of this is something none of us can imagine yet,” says Williams. “But what we can imagine in and of itself is actually pretty cool.”

For one thing, Williams says these memristors can be used as either digital switches or to build a new breed of analog devices.

For the former, Williams says scientists can now think about fabricating a new type of non-volatile random access memory (RAM) – or memory chips that don’t forget what power state they were in when a computer is shut off.

That’s the big problem with DRAM today, he says. “When you turn the power off on your PC, the DRAM forgets what was there. So the next time you turn the power on you’ve got to sit there and wait while all of this stuff that you need to run your computer is loaded into the DRAM from the hard disk.”

With non-volatile RAM, that process would be instantaneous and your PC would be in the same state as when you turned it off.

Scientists also envision building other types of circuits in which the memristor would be used as an analog device.

Indeed, Leon himself noted the similarity between his own predictions of the properties for a memristor and what was then known about synapses in the brain. One of his suggestions was that you could perhaps do some type of neuronal computing using memristors. HP Labs thinks that’s actually a very good idea.

“Building an analog computer in which you don’t use 1s and 0s and instead use essentially all shades of gray in between is one of the things we’re already working on,” says Williams. These computers could do the types of things that digital computers aren’t very good at –- like making decisions, determining that one thing is larger than another, or even learning.

While a lot of researchers are currently trying to write a computer code that simulates brain function on a standard machine, they have to use huge machines with enormous processing power to simulate only tiny portions of the brain.

Williams and his team say they can now take a different approach: “Instead of writing a computer program to simulate a brain or simulate some brain function, we’re actually looking to build some hardware based upon memristors that emulates brain-like functions,” says Williams.

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