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Massively Parallel Computer Built From Single Layer of Molecules

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the thin-client-solutions dept.

Science 46

djeps sends in this excerpt from the Physics arXiv Blog: "Japanese scientists have built a cellular automaton from individual molecules that carries out huge numbers of calculations in parallel. ... At the heart of their experiment is a ring-like molecule called 2,3-dichloro-5,6-dicyano-p-benzoquinone, or DDQ. This has an unusual property: it can exist in four different conducting states, depending on the location of trapped electrons around the ring. What's more, it's possible to switch the molecule from one to state to another by zapping it with voltages of various different strengths using the tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope. It's even possible to bias the possible states that can form by placing the molecule in an electric field. Place two DDQ molecules next to each other and it's possible to make them connect. ... When one molecule changes its state, the change in configuration ripples from one molecule to the next, forming and reforming circuits as it travels."

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Last year's news (4, Informative)

gzipped_tar (1151931) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870328)

This is impressive discovery, but it's no longer news. The paper was published in April 2010: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys1636 [doi.org] Admittedly the authors only recently uploaded a copy to arXiv on October 17, but can we not pretend this is some breaking news for nerds?

Re:Last year's news (2)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870504)

This is impressive discovery, but it's no longer news. The paper was published in April 2010: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys1636 [doi.org] Admittedly the authors only recently uploaded a copy to arXiv on October 17, but can we not pretend this is some breaking news for nerds?

Where did you get the idea that /. was about breaking news? The stuff that shows up on here is usually two of: interesting, breaking, accurate. Thankfully, the editors often choose accurate over breaking.

Re:Last year's news (3, Funny)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870726)

Indeed- many things I read on slashdot I read online elsewhere the week before.

(I still come over to the story to compulsively comment even if I have nothing useful to say)

I don't mind the delay- gives me time to gather my thoughts on the issue first.

I've got a great article on Microsoft's next OS, Windows 7, I'm planning on submitting tonight- supposedly it's going to fix all the problems in Vista...

Re:Last year's news (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#37876500)

I've got a great article on Microsoft's next OS, Windows 7, I'm planning on submitting tonight- supposedly it's going to fix all the problems in Vista...

Surely you mean Windows ME?

Re:Last year's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37872046)

I don't know what Slashdot site you read, but accuracy has never been a feature of the Slashdot I'm familiar with.

Re:Last year's news (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37872232)

Where did you get the idea that /. was about breaking news? The stuff that shows up on here is usually two of: interesting, breaking, accurate.

You forgot advertisement.

Re:Last year's news (0)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#37873392)

It's justified this is news for nerds, if you don't know of noscript I'm just going to petition that we don't want any of you here.

Re:Last year's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37876482)

He's talking about the slashvertisements, not the ads that nobody sees.

Personally, I'd say the ads are usually breaking and accurate.

Re:Last year's news (1)

rocket rancher (447670) | more than 2 years ago | (#37878848)

It's justified this is news for nerds, if you don't know of noscript I'm just going to petition that we don't want any of you here.

I think the GP meant "slashvertisement." If the clever folks behind NoScript could figure out how to block those, I'd be a truly happy camper. The number of people that regularly surf slashdot is pretty high; posts purporting to be about some new tech or development in science can turn out to be just a publicity grab for some rinky-dink tech start-up. Also, some unscrupulous posters (usually paid-by-the-click tech bloggers) will sensationalize an otherwise mundane tech story and provide a link in the hopes of summoning the slashdot effect [wikipedia.org] to boost their page views. It's sad, but everything can be commercialized, and many slashdot posters are not immune to the greed and corruption that the lure of advertising revenue engenders.

Re:Last year's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37872336)

definitions of news...
- Newly received or noteworthy information, esp. about recent or important events.
- a report of a recent event; intelligence; information

Re:Last year's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37870506)

News to most of us I'd say.

Re:Last year's news (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870550)

At least the pdf is no longer paywalled.

Re:Last year's news (1)

excelsior_gr (969383) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870968)

but can we not pretend this is some breaking news for nerds?

Yes we can, if we realize that part of the news here is that the paywalled scientific publications are not, well, publications as far as the greater public is concerned.

Re:Last year's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37876360)

the greater public

But they aren't nerds.

Re:Last year's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37871104)

Thank you for your wonderful contribution. Next time maybe you could step it up and offer us a "first post."

Re:Last year's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37871674)

This is impressive discovery, but it's no longer news.

The Singularity is near.

Hactar? (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870530)

Cricket anyone?

Re:Hactar? (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870654)

One moment, I need to pay for my Spaghetti.

Re:Hactar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37871186)

Hactar? I 'ardly know 'er!

Ion Channels? (1)

codeAlDente (1643257) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870554)

Nice summary in MIT Tech Review. Rightly points out that parallel computation is the key to energetically efficient processing, but doesn't mention the first thing that came to my mind, namely that many ion channels expressed by neurons in the brain also exhibit multiple conductance states. I wonder if the computerized intelligence that eventually destroys us all will use arrays of these things in its robo-neurons.

Practical Applications? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870602)

Very cool stuff, but... How is this useful information for those of us who aren't chemical engineers?

I'm still waiting for quantum processors [sciencedaily.com] and biological hard drives [technotips.org] to hit the market.

Re:Practical Applications? (4, Interesting)

arnoldo.j.nunez (1300907) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870666)

I research in the related field of memristors. While I agree with skepticism, someone has to first demonstrate that the technology can work. There are typically grants handed out by the government (e.g. SBIR) that spurs interest in first showing that it works over a half a year period, in second developing that idea into more production-worthy product over two or so years, and in finally taking the training wheels off to let people find their own funding to start a small business around a relatively new technology.

MOD PARENT +1 Insightful (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37871936)

And only +1 Insightful, so someone please down vote it to -1 Redundant or something patently unfair and then upvote to +1 Insightful. Do it.

Re:Practical Applications? (1)

CSMoran (1577071) | more than 2 years ago | (#37886242)

It's interesting, because certain cellular automata are Turing-complete. Thus, in theory, you could write, say, a C++ compiler for this (or similar) thing.

Of course, since it's still in the lab, there's no immediate practical application and probably there won't be for another decade, similarly to the examples you quoted.

sorta like an organic FPGA (1)

exabrial (818005) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870636)

Or at least that's the best explanation I could think of. I wonder how stable this molecules are: If they degrade or are sensitive to light.

Past a certain point (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870768)

Past a certain point, aren't most uber-computers just going to end up being used to institute and maintain tyranny (aka death of privacy) - if not by Fatherland Security, then by corporations (assuming these will remain two separate entities)? Careful what you wish for, qubit-wise.

Re:Past a certain point (1)

cavreader (1903280) | more than 2 years ago | (#37872830)

They had no problem running the "Fatherland" or practicing oppressive tyranny starting back in the late 1930's and they certainly didn't need a super computer to do it. And do try to understand the difference between privacy and anonymity. If you want to participate in today's civilization you cannot avoid sacrificing a little of each.

Re:Past a certain point (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 2 years ago | (#37946136)

And with all those people to track, a machine that can perform many parallel operations, is just what they need!

Connected Particles (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870778)

With regards to the "one molecule affects the next", there's this kid theory that still considers the universe a type of aether -- the one that was debunked in the Michaelson-Morley experiment last century. You could consider existence to be a big blob of jello and matter as we know it is just perturbations in the jello. Perturb the jello *here* and it will affect the jello *there* to a certain extent, depending on distance, other perturbations, etc. Jello could be swapped with spacetime, of course, but spacetime doesn't allow for everything being inherently connected -- vacuums matter too much.

So if you knew the initial conditions of the universe, you could conceivably predict everything since, if you knew how the perturbations affected each other. It would be difficult of course (pretty much impossible) but if you consider that the previous occurrence directly defines what the next occurrence will be...

Okay, this is going to be totally knocked off as irrelevant but I thought I'd share. :-)

LOL this stuff is SO cool! (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37870844)

FTFPDF
Writing, erasing and retrieving information: In Fig. 3a we demonstrate the
sequential writing of a state 1 matrix on a state 0 surface. The states are stored as static
information until spontaneous pattern evolution is triggered externally. By scanning the
surface at -1.68 V one can reset all molecules to state 0, thus erasing the information. To
retrieve information the surface is scanned at ~0.2 V (Figure 1d).

Logic gate: The effects resulting from Rule 3 appear similar to the interactions in
the Billiard Ball Model,31 which has been used to design logic gates. We have realized an
AND logic gate based on interactions in which Rule 1 dominates over Rule 3. A
schematic logic device is shown in Figure 3c. A random composition of states 1 and 3
(density > 0.5 electrons/nm2) written in a circular form is a logical "1" and the absence of
any such composition is a logical "0". If we write two logical "1"s at most 15 nm (15
cells) apart, only then a new composition is created automatically on the surface
depicting logical state "1". If any one or both input compositions are absent we do not get
such an output; rather states collapse at the same space (Figure 3d), we get a logical "0"
at the output location. Thus we realize an AND gate. A large number of such logic gates
could be operated in parallel on DDQ CA by separating those by ~15 CA cells. The
output of a logic gate could be transported to the input of another logic gate, as described
in Figure 3b.

Replicating circuits (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37871192)

This is getting scary, folks. Speaking in general, the Human Race's ability to advance technology in many fields has already out-paced our maturity as a Species, and our ability to fully comprehend the ramifications of what we create. Somewhere there's coming another "Big Bang", and I hope we survive it.

Re:Replicating circuits (1)

rocket rancher (447670) | more than 2 years ago | (#37878964)

This is getting scary, folks. Speaking in general, the Human Race's ability to advance technology in many fields has already out-paced our maturity as a Species, and our ability to fully comprehend the ramifications of what we create. Somewhere there's coming another "Big Bang", and I hope we survive it.

dude -- no species is guaranteed survival. DNA is pretty resilient; while our particular species may indeed fail to emerge from the technological singularity that we seem to be heading for, I'm pretty sure other species will thrive in our absence. There is nothing special or exceptional about our species that guarantees our survival; it is irrational to think otherwise. In fact, a case can be made that we are an exceptionally self-destructive species, and that our technological advances are at best only prolonging the inevitable, if not actually hastening our demise.

Moleculatronic Computer (1)

Shompol (1690084) | more than 2 years ago | (#37871194)

Moleculatronic Computer - 125% beam attack! [wikipedia.org]

Cool, but not a CA and not parallel (2)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37871332)

This is an awsome project, but the researchers make some claims that are not true. First, this is not a CA, as molecules affect other molecules in a big radius not just their neighbours. Second, a computer is not massively parallel just because it's realized on a CA [quinapalus.com] . That's like saying that silicon-based chips are massively parallel because each of the great number of electrons "computes" its path on its own.

Re:Cool, but not a CA and not parallel (2)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 2 years ago | (#37871518)

This is an awsome project, but the researchers make some claims that are not true. First, this is not a CA, as molecules affect other molecules in a big radius not just their neighbours.

So isn't that just a highly connected CA? What about a CA where each cell is connected to all the rest - it might behave very differently to a more grid-like CA, but it still counts as one.

Second, a computer is not massively parallel just because it's realized on a CA [quinapalus.com] .

The image in that link looks like a non-parallel computer in a CA. So, yes, you can throw away the advantages of parallelism if you like; what's your point? They are claiming that their setup could be parallel, not that it must be.

Re:Cool, but not a CA and not parallel (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37872172)

So isn't that just a highly connected CA? What about a CA where each cell is connected to all the rest - it might behave very differently to a more grid-like CA, but it still counts as one.

Yes, you can define CAs in a very general term so that everything counts as one but that makes it impractical to model anything with them. And in this case the physical arrangement of the molecules also counts, and if I understood correctly, external electric fields are also applied.

They are claiming that their setup could be parallel, not that it must be.

Of course, you can make any computer parallel, for example by using two of them. I was reflecting to the claims throughout the paper like this:

As an alternative to serial logic operation, von Neumann demonstrated parallel computing on a piece of graph paper by moving black and white dots together using simple rules.

The Neumann replicator is still linear even though it's on a CA.

Re:Cool, but not a CA and not parallel (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 2 years ago | (#37872460)

Well you're absolutely right that the important thing is what it can do, not what it is called :) I'm not sure how the connectivity of a CA-like computer affects its function. The brain, for example is connected both locally (to nearby neurons) and globally (long-distance axons). I'm no neuroscientist, however, so I don't know how dense the network is.

Apologies, I thought that you were claiming the opposite - that you can make parallel computers serial. I suppose that replicators in CAs are serial, but I assume that you can also use them in parallel. I wonder what the different states of the molecule are.

Re:Cool, but not a CA and not parallel (1)

naasking (94116) | more than 2 years ago | (#37871584)

First, this is not a CA, as molecules affect other molecules in a big radius not just their neighbours.

You're operating under the assumption that "neighbour" is a spatial definition. X neighbours Y if X can affect Y in one time step. This is often correlated with spatial proximity, but need not be.

OC? (2)

jirikivaari (2468926) | more than 2 years ago | (#37871760)

So, how do I overclock this?

Re:OC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37876492)

By heating it up, oddly enough.

Dekatron? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37872400)

Sorry, I just can't get the idea of a very small dekatron out of my head.

sounds like alot of wishful thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37872726)

"Massively Parallel Computer Built"

At best it sounds like they have demonstrated some physical effect.

There is a big difference between the discovery of the electron and the building of an electron microscope.

wait a sec... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37873290)

Let's not get carried away here. Just because you can set up these molecules as dominoes and start a cascade does not mean this is useful, reliable, or scalable.

There are a whole lot of sticking points, like how do you set up the computation, how do you reset all the molecules to the charged state, how do you set initial conditions, and how fast and reliable are the "computations"? Lots of sticky wickets there.

Beowolf (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37874380)

Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these.

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