Researchers in the U.K. have developed a computer that mimics the chaos of nature to repair itself. The “systemic” computer could be used in mission-critical situations, for instance in drones to cope better with combat damage.
Current computers work sequentially, executing one instruction before going on to the next. Even when they appear to be multi-tasking they are actually just switching between tasks very quickly. University College London (UCL) scientist Peter Bentley says that nature does not work in that way, instead its processes are distributed, decentralized and probabilistic, reports New Scientist.
He and UCL’s Christos Sakellariou have created a computer in which data is married up with instructions on what to do with it. For example, it links the temperature outside with what to do if it’s too hot. It then divides the results up into pools of digital entities called “systems”.
Each system has a memory containing context-sensitive data that means it can only interact with other, similar systems. Rather than using a program counter, the systems are executed at times chosen by a pseudorandom number generator, designed to mimic nature’s randomness. The systems carry out their instructions simultaneously, with no one system taking precedence over the others, says Bentley. “The pool of systems interact in parallel, and randomly, and the result of a computation simply emerges from those interactions,” he says.
The process, he adds, works much faster than expected. And, because the instructions are distributed across multiple systems, if one is corrupted, the computer just finds a clean copy rather than crashing. The next stage is to teach the computer to rewrite its own code,