by December 5, 2002 0 comments

From the early 1960s to the hi-tech computers of today, it has been a saga of heady technology development. But if current research is any indicator, then the best of computing is yet to come. The computers of tomorrow will be unlike any we have seen in the past. No, we are not talking of huge computers that will be in control, a la HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We are talking of a distinct shift in the materials used in the creation of the processing power of computers, and of another shift in the logic used by them. In short, we are talking of a genre of computers that will be unlike any we are used to.

Quantum computers
Quantum computers are based on the quantum mechanics theory and promise high speeds and huge computing power. Quantum machines can perform many calculations at a time, as their computation is not based on two bits (ie, 0 and 1). The concept of quantum mechanics in computational devices was first explored in the 1970s and early 1980s. Physical laws that govern the behavior of circuits are quantum mechanical in nature and not classical. This led to researchers trying to develop a computer on the principles of quantum physics.

Quantum computers encode information in qubits. A qubit can be a 0 or 1 or can be between both. It can even be a superposition that can be both 0 and 1. Qubits represent atoms that are working together to act as computer memory and processor. Super positioning of qubits is what gives quantum computers the potential for being millions of times faster that today’s computers.

In comparison
A 30-qubit quantum computer would have a processing power equal to a computer running at 10 teraflops (trillions of floating point operations per second). Currently, the fastest supercomputer has a computational speed of 40 teraflops. 

So why are quantum computers not happening yet? Because many problems still need to be sorted out. Quantum computers face difficulties of hardware architecture and error correction mechanisms. A quantum computer will be capable of solving hard problems only if there is a way to maintain decoherence and other potential sources of error at an acceptable level. They also require devices that can do quantum computations. However, quantum-computing hardware is still in its infancy.

Another possibility is biological computers. Biological computing is all about making computational elements on a biological scale, ie, programming cells to compute, store and process information. These cells will act as a bridge between computers and the chemical world. They will not replace current computers.

Moreover, every cell is a miniature chemical factory. If a biological system can be interfaced with a computer, then you could potentially make the computer automatically give it signals to say, release a particular chemical when a given condition is satisfied. 


computing, clocks are timing mechanisms to synchronize various processes.
Michael Elowitz, and his team at the Rockefeller University, has
constructed a biological clock that consists of four genes and is
engineered into a bacterium. Three of the genes turn the fourth one, which
is responsible for encoding a fluorescent protein on and off. The cycle
time of this clock ranges from 120 to 200 mins. Below are the stages in
the working of a biological clock 

Bioengineers could later program cells to do all the work by themselves. So, cells could be programmed to monitor insulin levels in the body, and release it as needed into a diabetic’s bloodstream.

Once a single cell has been programmed, similar cells can be produced at the cost of simple nutrient solutions, thereby making the production highly cost-effective. Thus these cells can continuously monitor and nourish the body with required nutrients at almost no cost. Assumptions are being made that these biocomputers will be more reliable than computers built from wires and silicon, as the body can survive the death of millions of cells and still function. 

SMS your server

Getting data from a business server requires complex queries to be run, often on multiple databases. If you are on the move, and want to make such queries from, say, a cellphone, it is too complex, if not all together impossible.
This is where Dejima steps in. Dejimas Direct mobile messaging platform takes simple English or even SMS English queries, processes the application on the server and sends back English answers to the mobile device. 

A specific option that researchers are exploring in biological computing is DNA computing, manipulating DNA strands to solve complex problems. Leonard M Adleman solved the ‘directed Hamilton Path’ problem ( a path is to be drawn through a set of points, with each point being visited only once) in 1994 using DNA. 

Nature magazine reports that a computer that solves mathematical problems using DNA as software and enzymes as hardware has been built. These devices are so small that a trillion such machines would occupy only as much space as a drop of water! Machines like this could one day be fitted into cells.

Varun Sharma

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