Sunday, July 12, 2009

Memristors complete the electrical spectrum

At least until memcapacitors and meminductors come, we now have all of the basic building blocks of electronic devices. New scientist has a GREAT article about memristors. Seems that one guy (Leon Chua) figured out how this missing component a.k.a. the memristor should have been back in 1971! Turns out another guy (Stan Williams) had acceidentally stumbled on an arrangement that behaves just as Chua expected around 2000. Why is this exciting? I'll tell you in a minute. Suffice to say the effect is based on charged oxygen bubbles migrating into or out of RESISTORS! It also appears it was not within our technology realm until we got much close to today in terms of fabrication techniques (i.e. photolithography etc.)

Then we get on to Biology. It appears that a gentleman by the name of Max Di Ventra (UCSD woo hoo!) connected the behavior of a large single celled slime with the memristor. Of course it turns out that SYNAPSES are just memristors (Based on their description they operate in the frequency domain) with the "ebb and flow of potassium and sodium ions" substituting for the charged oxygen bubbles. Nature had them all along!

I did a brief stint working at the neuroscience institute working on robotic autotmata for the first robocup with segways. The institute was founded and run by Gerald Edleman who did amazing work on the structure of antibodies which he recieved a nobel prize for. Basically one of the feelings I got while there was that he valued just as much trying things out as opposed to trying to unravel them. We basically worked on building models of the brain to do limited things based on our understanding as it stood at the time. Of course we were just SIMULATING neurons in a coarse, and really digital fashion and they were able to make great strides in understanding. Now all of a sudden there's a circuit element which behaves like a neuron.

So this begs the question.....How long til AI? I certainly think this is a big step toward starting to have intelligent systems because we can just copy our brains to figure things out instead of trying to simulate what ends up just being a memristor in the first place. This certainly opens new doors, and the rapid development on this project track though I still wonder at seeing a sentient machine in my lifetime. It was only a few years ago it took a hundred million dollar machine (deep blue) to beat the best chess player at CHESS! Imagine the difficulties in programming, or really as we get closer TEACHING a computer. I think it will be a while before the technology, let alone philosophy exists for us to raise a sentient computer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Word on the street today is that google is going to release an OS! This is a BIG move into microsoft's territory. Even IF it's as they say just for netbooks, and basically an android follow on it's still a big move following on the heals of the browser release.

The Economist headline reads: Google v Microsoft: Clash of the titans. They point out that M$ still has about a 90% share of the marketplace and this OS is aimed at netbooks. The reality is, they say, and I agree, that it will be a big challenge. Still the timing, and the company (now and google versus sun 15 years ago) seem to be well placed for success. Google has turned everything they've touched into gold.

Cnet's coverage is also here with a more techie sort of view. Two nice summarizing paragraphs excerpted cover the authors opinion:

Google's general idea seems to be twofold. First, it wants to make it easier for regular people to use a computer by making an operating system that is fast, secure, and lightweight enough to run on portable devices.

Secondly, Google believes that through the use of Web standards like HTML 5--promoted heavily during its recent Google I/O conference as the development platform of the future--software development on a browser-based OS will be easily understood by developers reared in the Web 2.0 era.

I pretty much agree. Starting from scratch is usually a better way to do anything if you want to change. I think they can be competitive becuase MS is SO encumbered by backwards compatability they they can't be as nimble. Also as an IETFer and Open Source afficianado I think it's a good sign they are being open about it and using OS software, and (likely) well documented open protocols.

Google already has attacked MS on the Applications front with google aps. Not only are they well featured, but they are instantly shared and have versioning! I've been using these simple free tools for a while to do work and collaborate.

Still the reality is that google is going major now. I predict 5 years max until they are no longer a a darling, and begin to have some of the problems all incumbents always do. Hopefully the competitive pressures of being a Web 2.0 and web services based company providing a service will mitigate some of those issues and they will be a company of the future. I'd love to be wrong.

A good article I always think of when talking about these subjects is Robert Cringly's 5% solution. He talks about how companies will no longer be able to be lax about improving their products if they want to survive in the future. This is also the future prognosticated for ALL industries by one of my favorite references, natural capitalism. They also agree, but for the bigger picture, that providing services instead of things people buy up front, you encourage producers to be effective and efficient.

I welcome people's feedback.