Excerpt from Chapter 9 – Deep Impact – Technology and Disruptive Innovation
Looking further into the future there are really only two promising solutions that will replace the silicon paradigm that underlies the flawless performance of Moore’s Law to-date. Those two solutions are Quantum computing and DNA or Biological computing.
Quantum computing essentially utilizes the quantum state of qubit (the equivalent of a normal bit/bite in computing terms but at the quantum level). Like a traditional bit, a qubit has an on and off state, but whereas a bit can ONLY be 1 or 0, a cubit can also produce a superposition of both states. Thus, depending on configurations, implementation, the principles of entanglement and superposition (quantum mechanical phenomena) a quantum computer will likely operate of an underlying bit structure that contains at least 8 different three-bit strings. But because of the nature of quantum mechanics, it can simulate the calculations of almost any combination of results simultaneously.
This means a completely different type of programming would be required, but it results in massive computing power. Programs, calculations or simulations that would take weeks, months or even years to complete on today’s platforms could be executed in real-time almost instantly. Chips the size of a grain of rice would be more powerful than today’s supercomputers, and use almost no power at all.
Recently some progress has been made in this field with Resonant Tunnelling Diodes (RTD), and software modelling that simulates quantum processing. Needless to say, this all very hi-tech and the applications are mind blowing. Computers will be everywhere, some of them as small as dust or embedded within our blood cells to keep check on our vitals. Near instantaneous transfer of information will exist around the planet. The applications are endless.
So when will this all happen? Estimates of quantum hardware of this type being in commercial production range from 10-30 years. But already MRAM (Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory), RTD’s and other quantum applications are already in the market or in development. So it seems just a matter of time.
The other promising replacement for silicon technology is DNA Computing which uses DNA, biochemistry and molecular biology. It was first demonstrated as a concept by Leonard Adleman of the SoCal (University of Southern California), in 1994. Adleman demonstrated a proof-of-concept use of DNA as a form of computation which solved the seven-point Hamiltonian path problem. He used an oligonucleotide, which is just a really fancy name for a polymer. But if you’ve ever watched an episode of CSI when they take a piece of evidence with a suspect’s DNA and put it in a solution to identify who it belongs to, etc then you are watching one typical use of oligonucleotides, as they are often used to amplify DNA in what is called a polymerase chain reaction. Ok, ok, enough of the technobable…well almost.
What does it all mean? Well DNA computers will operate as molecular computers, or other words very, very small. In respect to capability, a typical desktop computer can execute say 108 operations per second, whereas super computers available today can execute say 1014 operations per second. Well a single strand of DNA could execute say 1020 operations per second, or to put it in perspective, a DNA computer would be more than a thousand times faster than current super computers, while being about a million times more efficient in energy terms than a super computer. Impressive! Oh, and it could store 1 Terabyte of data, on the space we take to store about 1 Kb of data right now.
So in theory, inside a cell inside your body, you could carry a DNA computer capable of more computational power than the world’s most powerful supercomputer. This might be useful combined with nano-technology to enhance our natural immune system response, or even more exotic solutions such as augmenting our natural abilities, improving longevity by correcting cellular reproduction error at the molecular level, etc. Pretty wild…