IBM Shows Off a Quantum Computing Chip

A new superconducting chip made by IBM demonstrates a technique crucial to the development of quantum computers

When cooled down to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, the four dark elements at the center of the circuit in the middle of this image can represent digital data using quantum mechanical effects.

When cooled down to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, the four dark elements at the center of the circuit in the middle of this image can represent digital data using quantum mechanical effects.

A superconducting chip developed at IBM demonstrates an important step needed for the creation of computer processors that crunch numbers by exploiting the weirdness of quantum physics. If successfully developed, quantum computers could effectively take shortcuts through many calculations that are difficult for today’s computers. Continue reading IBM Shows Off a Quantum Computing Chip

Stanford scientists create circuit board modeled on the human brain

Stanford scientists have developed faster, more energy-efficient microchips based on the human brain – 9,000 times faster and using significantly less power than a typical PC. This offers greater possibilities for advances in robotics and a new way of understanding the brain. For instance, a chip as fast and efficient as the human brain could drive prosthetic limbs with the speed and complexity of our own actions.

Does Information Have Mass?

information-technology-symbols-Laszlo B. Kish, Claes-Goran Granqvist
Does information have mass? This question has been asked many times and there are many answers even on the Internet, including on Yahoo Answers. Usually the answer is “no”.
Attempts have been made to assess the physical mass of information by estimating the mass of electrons feeding the power-guzzling computers and devices making up the Internet, the result being around 50 gram.
Other efforts to calculate the mass of information have assumed that each electron involved in signal transfer carries one bit of information, which makes the corresponding mass to be about 10-5 gram.
We address the fundamental question of minimum mass related to a bit of information from the angles of quantum physics and special relativity. Our results indicate that there are different answers depending on the physical situation, and sometimes the mass can even be negative.
We tend to be skeptical about the earlier mass estimations, mentioned above, because our results indicate that the electron’s mass does not play a role in any one of them….

Computer Can Read Letters Directly from the Brain

By analysing MRI images of the brain with an elegant mathematical model, it is possible to reconstruct thoughts more accurately than ever before. In this way, researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen have succeeded in determining which letter a test subject was looking at. (Credit: Image courtesy of Radboud University Nijmegen)

By analysing MRI images of the brain with an elegant mathematical model, it is possible to reconstruct thoughts more accurately than ever before. In this way, researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen have succeeded in determining which letter a test subject was looking at. The journal Neuroimage has accepted the article, which will be published soon.
Read more:

Build a supercomputer on the moon

(Image: Caspar Benson/Getty Images)

Hal Hodson
NASA currently controls its deep space missions through a network of huge satellite dishes in California, Spain and Australia known as the Deep Space Network (DSN). Even the Voyager 1 probe relies on these channels to beam data back to Earth as it careers away into space.

But traffic on the network is growing fast, at a rate that the current set-up can’t handle. Two new dishes are being built in Australia at the moment to cope with the extra data, but a researcher from University of Southern California has proposed a slightly more radical solution to the problem.

In a presentation to the AIAA Space conference in Pasadena, California, last Thursday, Ouliang Chang suggested that one way to ease the strain would be to build a supercomputer and accompanying radio dishes on the moon. This lunar supercomputer would not only ease the load on terrestrial mission control infrastructure, it would also provide computational power for the “first phase of lunar industrial and settlement development”.

Chang suggests that a lunar supercomputer ought to be built on the far side of the moon, set in a deep crater near a pole. This would protect it somewhat from the moon’s extreme temperature swings, and might let it tap polar water ice for cooling.

As well as boosting humanity’s space-borne communication abilities, the USC presentation also suggests that the moon-based dishes could work in unison with those on Earth to perform very-long-baseline interferometry, which allows multiple telescopes to be combined to emulate one huge telescope.

The challenge of building anything on the moon is clearly high,but the rise of modular data centres may make the IT side of things a little easier. Companies like HP and IBM now build blocks of data centre which can be plugged together on location to provide computing power. Shipping these to the moon would likely be easier than assembling an entire supercomputer on site.

Read more:

Towards Computing With Water Droplets: Superhydrophobic Droplet Logic

Water droplets moving on a superhydrophobic surface collide with each other and rebound like billiard balls. (Credit: Image courtesy of Aalto University)

Researchers in Aalto University have developed a new concept for computing, using water droplets as bits of digital information. This was enabled by the discovery that upon collision with each other on a highly water-repellent surface, two water droplets rebound like billiard balls.

In the work, published in the journalAdvanced Materials, the researchers experimentally determined the conditions for rebounding of water droplets moving on superhydrophobic surfaces. In the study, a copper surface coated with silver and chemically modified with a fluorinated compound was used. This method enables the surface to be so water-repellent that water droplets roll off when the surface is tilted slightly. Superhydrophobic tracks, developed during a previous study, were employed for guiding droplets along designed paths.

Using the tracks, the researchers demonstrated that water droplets could be turned into technology, “superhydrophobic droplet logic.” For example, a memory device was built where water droplets act as bits of digital information. Furthermore, devices for elementary Boolean logic operations were demonstrated. These simple devices are building blocks for computing.

Video: droplet logic: flip-flop memory)

Furthermore, when the water droplets are loaded with reactive chemical cargo, the onset of a chemical reaction could be controlled by droplet collisions. Combination of the collision-controlled chemical reactions with droplet logic operations potentially enables programmable chemical reactions where single droplets serve simultaneously as miniature reactors and bits for computing.

Video: (Chemical reaction controlled by droplet collisions)

“It is fascinating to observe a new physical phenomenon for such everyday objects — water droplets,” says Robin Ras, an Academy Research Fellow in the Molecular Materials research group.

“I was surprised that such rebounding collisions between two droplets were never reported before, as it indeed is an easily accessible phenomenon: I conducted some of the early experiments on water-repellent plant leaves from my mother’s garden,” explains a member of the research group, Henrikki Mertaniemi, who discovered the rebounding droplet collisions two years ago during a summer student project in the research group of Ras and Academy Professor Olli Ikkala.

The researchers foresee that the present results enable technology based on superhydrophobic droplet logic. Possible applications include autonomous simple logic devices not requiring electricity, and programmable biochemical analysis devices.

Other related videos are available on YouTube:

Read more:

One of the First Computer-Generated Films, from 1963

This film was a specific project to define how a particular type of satellite would move through space. Edward E. Zajac made, and narrated, the film, which is considered to be possibly the very first computer graphics film ever. Zajac programmed the calculations in FORTRAN, then used a program written by Zajac’s colleague, Frank Sinden, called ORBIT. The original computations were fed into the computer via punch cards, then the output was printed onto microfilm using the General Dynamics Electronics Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm recorder. All computer processing was done on an IBM 7090 or 7094 series computer.

Zajac didn’t make the film to demonstrate computer graphics, however. Instead, he was interested in real-time modeling of a certain theoretical construct. At the time, The Bell System was still deeply engaged in satellite research, having launched Telstar the previous year, with plans to continue developing communications satellites. Zajac’s model is of a box (“satellite”), with two gyroscopes within. In the film, he was trying to create a simulation of movement — the pitch, roll, and yaw within that system. He gives these particulars in an article in the Bell System Technical Journal, from 1964.

Zajac worked at Bell Labs from 1954 to 1983. He passed away in 2011; his last appointment was as part of the Economics faculty at the University of Arizona. For the latter part of his career, he specialized in the economics of communications and telecommunications.

DNA logic gates calculate square root using 130 different molecules

Biological systems have caught the attention of computer scientists, who have been turning everything fromRNA molecules to entire bacterial colonies into logic gates. So far, however, these systems have been relatively small-scale, with only a handful of gates linked up in a series. Today’s issue of Science leapfrogs past the small-scale demonstrations, and shows that a form of DNA computing can perform a calculation with up to 130 different types of DNA molecules involved. The system is so flexible that it’s also possible to use compilers and include debugging circuitry.
Before you have visions of DNA controlling Skynet, it’s worth taking a second to consider the system’s limitations: all those molecules were used to simply perform square roots on four-bit numbers, and each calculation took over five hours. Although they’re not especially useful for general purpose calculations, these DNA-based logic gates do have the advantage of being able to integrate into biological systems, taking their input from a cell and feeding the output into biochemical processes.
The authors of the Science paper (one biologist and one computer scientist, both from Caltech) had described their general approach in an open access publication. It relies on what they term “seesaw” logic gates, which we’ve diagrammed below. The central feature of these gates is a stretch of DNA that can base-pair with many different molecules, allowing them to compete for binding. Even once a molecule is base-paired, it can be displaced; short “landing” sequences on either side allow a different molecule to attach, after which it can displace the resident one.

An input (top left) can be added to a DNA logic gate preloaded with an output. The input starts base-pairing with the gate and can eventually displace the output molecule (right). That output can then be used as input to a different gate (bottom).

This system lets the authors preload gates with a molecule, add a bunch of input molecules, and wait for statistics to do their thing—the more of a given input molecule that is around to start with, the greater the chances are that it will displace the molecule at the gate, which can then be read as an output.
On its own, this sort of gate/input/output system is pretty simple, but it’s possible to make molecules that extend past the portion that base pairs with the gate. For example, you can stick a tail on an output molecule that acts as an input molecule for another gate. You can also make sinks for different outputs (the authors call these molecules “fuel”). They can base-pair with an output in such a way that it is eliminated from further interactions, thus changing the dynamics of the situation. Multiple inputs and outputs can also interact at the same gate at once.
Pairs of gates can be used to create AND and OR logic based on the levels of output observed. When a pair of gates are both off, output is low; it’s higher for a one-on/one-off situation (OR) and reaches high levels when both gates are on (AND). Output is read using a DNA molecule carrying a fluorescent tag; output molecules carry a separate tag that quenches the fluorescence, allowing a signal to be detected.
Because the logical operations are so simple and the rules of DNA base pairing are so straightforward, the authors were able to generate a computerized “compiler” that told them what DNA molecules to purchase, as well as the order and concentrations needed to get the reaction to work. They added debugging abilities by watching the levels of some intermediate output molecules as the reaction proceeded.
To demonstrate that it worked, the authors constructed a system that calculated the floor of the square root of a four-bit binary number. This required 74 different single-stranded molecules of DNA (not counting the inputs). While the calculation was running, up to 130 different double stranded molecules existed in the same test tube.
Despite the presence of a compiler and a simulator, the authors still had to hand-tune a few of the base pairing reactions in order to get the whole operation to complete. Then there was the eight hours involved in waiting for that completion to take place (presumably, the simulator would have gotten the answer faster than the DNA did). So, although impressive, this technique isn’t going to revolutionize computation
Still, it does have its appeal. Various biomolecules, including DNA, RNA, enzymes, and small molecules, could all potentially be used as inputs. And it should be possible to link the outputs into relevant biological functions, including gene expression. Finally, the authors have a rather clever idea to speed things up. Instead of having all the gates floating loose in a test tube, they suggest that it might be possible to use large DNA scaffolds to assemble gates in close proximity to each other, ensuring that reactions take place quickly and require far less DNA to be used.
Science, 2011. DOI: 10.1126/science.1200520