3 Breakthroughs Setting the Standard for Future Computers

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future computers
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Computing technology is on the brink of some major achievements, and some of them stand to change everything in the field.

Have you noticed how much computers have advanced in the last decade? How about the last century? What will future computers be like?

We live in a time when people have computers in their pockets that are more powerful than room-sized 1950s computers. And over the years, computers have seen skyrocketing advancements in speed, power, and miniaturization.

All of the advances that we’ve seen over the years have gradually changed the form we expect a computer to take. We may have our smartphones and tablets now, but who knows what lies just over the horizon?

Well, we actually have a pretty good idea of what the future of computers will look like, and it’s pretty amazing. Expect more power than you could dream of and improved architecture and materials that will make the computers of today look like an etch-a-sketch by comparison.

The future looks exciting, folks, and the possibilities are endless. So endless, in fact, that I boiled it down into what I think are three major breakthroughs happening in the field of computing technology.

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Three Breakthroughs Toward Future Computers:

Let’s start with a personal favorite of mine, and one that will almost definitely be integral to future computers: Quantum computing.

1. Quantum Supremacy

Our first breakthrough has been on the lips of data scientists since 1968, only now it’s gone from theory to reality.

Quantum computers are still very much in their infancy, but they have great potential. Whereas traditional computers store data in the form of bits, quantum computers use what is known as a qubit. Bits can perform one calculation at a time, but qubits can perform two, which makes quantum computers exponentially more powerful than anything we’ve seen yet.

There are two goals in the world of quantum computing:

  1. First, researchers need to improve how many qubits they can use.

Hopefully, they can make a computer that deploys 49 of them (almost there), which will achieve something called quantum supremacy.

Quantum supremacy sounds awesome, but it’s really just a measurement. It’s the point at which a quantum computer has matched the computing power of the most powerful traditional models.

quantum circuit
IBM 16 Qubit Processor | IBM Research | Flickr.com

2. Second, they need to find a way to scale up production methods so that commercial quantum computers can become a reality. Once that happens, the public will have access to more computing power than ever before.

More power is amazing, but it isn’t everything. Quantum computing is impressive, but without an equally impressive processing architecture, it would go underutilized.

With that in mind, let’s move onto our next breakthrough.

2. Better Processors Bring More Power to Future Computers

This one hits home for me as a PC gamer.

Before I knew anything about computer processing architecture, I got the chip with the most cores and the highest total speed. Well, wasn’t I pleasantly surprised to find out that more cores just aren’t as effective for gaming rigs?

No, I wasn’t.

It took me a long time to realize why that is, though. Rendering graphics, among other things, requires many processes happening at once, and if you can’t make use of all of those fancy cores, you can’t get the most out of your computer.

In the world of data science, using multiple cores to perform simultaneous operations is known as parallelism.

It’s a problem that requires computer scientists and electrical engineers in order to solve, and modern research has been yielding interesting results. Recently, researchers at MIT created a new system called Fractal, and it could be the next big leap in parallel implementation.

Just to give an example, the previous record for parallel implementation involved 256 parallel processors. Fractal improved on that by 322-fold, and it only required about a third of the code to run.

How Fractal works is incredibly complicated. The basic explanation is that it makes use of some shortcuts to perform an atomic task. Think of an atomic task as a bunch of parallel processes organized into a single unit, locking them into a single process.

Bundling those processes together does a few things, not the least of which is to disallow any conflicting processes. That, and the reduced need for code, make Fractal a pretty substantial stepping stone to more powerful processor chips.

But if Fractal enables more powerful chips, what will they be like? To answer that, let’s get a little deeper into what makes processors work: electrons.

3. Putting a Better Spin on Electrons

Computers utilize electrons to process data, which I have always found interesting. Every process requires nano-wires to process bits recorded on one of the smallest things that exist.

It’s interesting, sure, but it’s also the source of heat, and heat is the main limiting factor in how powerful a computer can be. Currently, we use silicon-based crystals in our computer processors, but these materials will only take us so far. That’s where a new discovery that Professor Barry Zink is calling Spintronics comes in.

spintronics
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Spintronics uses a material called yttrium iron garnet, which is far easier to procure than the crystals we use now. Even better, the material has properties that are magnetically and structurally amorphous, which will likely make it better at handling rises in heat.

So if the first two breakthroughs promise more power, this last one could seal the deal by extending the limit that heat presents.

Computing technology is going to amazing places, and these breakthroughs are giving us a glimpse into what will be possible. But as always, we want to know what you think!

Are there any other breakthroughs that you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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