I have been reading stories about how Moore’s Law is dead. This states that computer performance tends to double every 18-24 months. It has been this way for about 30 years but some people say it has been slowing down as we reach the limits of silicon based chips. That may be true but a new generation of computer technology is in development which may restart Moore’s Law for a few more decades.
At its HP Discover conference in Las Vegas today, HP announced an ambitious plan to use memristors to build a system, called simply “The Machine,” shipping as soon as the end of the decade. By 2016, the company plans to have memristor-based DIMMs, which will combine the high storage densities of hard disks with the high performance of traditional DRAM.
John Sontag, vice president of HP Systems Research, said that The Machine would use “electrons for processing, photons for communication, and ions for storage.” The electrons are found in conventional silicon processors, and the ions are found in the memristors. The photons are because the company wants to use optical interconnects in the system, built using silicon photonics technology. With silicon photonics, photons are generated on, and travel through, “circuits” etched onto silicon chips, enabling conventional chip manufacturing to construct optical parts. This allows the parts of the system using photons to be tightly integrated with the parts using electrons.
If HP can build such a computer, it may prove revolutionary. The memory hierarchy is, for many computing applications, the fundamental performance bottleneck. Memory can be very fast but very small, such as the cache on a processor, or very slow but very large, such as spinning hard disks. RAM (fast, small) and flash (slower but larger than RAM, faster but smaller than hard disk) fall somewhere in between. Shuffling data between these different kinds of memory, and ensuring that the right data is in the right place for optimal performance, is a significant bottleneck.
That is pretty cool stuff. Humanity seems to find a way. In this case we are enabling a generation of computers that may culminate in Artificial Intelligence, which of course will then launch a war that will wipe out most of the human species except for a few kept around for experimentation.