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article imageOp-Ed: A real bio virus is being used to speed up computers

By Paul Wallis     Dec 5, 2018 in Science
Cambridge - You hear a lot about computer viruses, but a new bit of technology has come from the use of a biological virus. It’s called “phase change memory”, and it relates to memory management in two states, “amorphous” and “crystalline” memory.
The bio virus in question is a bacteriophage, the inspirationally named M13 bacteriophage. Bacteriophages eat bacteria, and this one uses a filament system of “tiny wires” which is adaptable to a range of uses as a template for computer memory.
The trick with M13 is its ability to morph its tiny wires in to two forms, crystalline and “amorphous”, meaning shapeless, according to needs. This ability allows it to reduce millisecond delays in processing delivering speeds up to 10 times faster than conventional processors. All that’s required is a brief, low energy electrical or optical pulse to change phases, and the nature of the processors.
The study was conducted by the David H. Koch (yes, those Kochs) Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It represents a rethink, as much as a technological breakthrough, in computer processing.
The whole idea of computer processing, confined by silicon chips, has been basically evolving in to a search for better options as demands for processor efficiencies stampede in to much higher volume data. Moore’s Law, the increase in demand, is showing no sign of letting up, and this new discovery may well be the next phase, pun intended, in to dealing with processor demands. It may even beat Moore's Law at its own game, able to adapt to meet demand.
The idea of shapeshifting memory is a big move of itself in to a far more adaptive, fluent range of computer technologies. It couldn’t happen at a better time, too. The advent of big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, which are all game changers for the whole spectrum of processing needs, has also created a huge demand for ultra-efficient processors. M13 is a first, gigantic move in to the practical physics of better processing.
This technology will also be the staging ground for rapid evolution of higher processing functions, perhaps even “higher brain functions” for AI. The science of computers is about to stage another big boom, from the look of this basic framework. Phased processing could soon evolve in to more than two phases, and multiple contiguous coordinated states of processors could drastically improve performance across the board.
(In the case of AI, if it needs to deliver “synaptic” multi-value logic, phased processing and multiple processor “perspectives” make a lot of sense. After all, do we yet know what artificial intelligence requires to become truly intelligent? Looks like we’re about to find out.
The full document regarding the phase change memory methods and techniques is available on the ACS website here: Biological-Templating of a Segregating Binary Alloy for Nanowire-Like Phase-Change Materials and Memory. It’s not light reading, but if you have even some of the technical vocabulary, it’s fascinating. This is real nano engineering, and it’s a great bit of work. (Yes, multidisciplinary science rides yet again, but what a lot of fun the researchers must have had with it!)
Meanwhile, I’d suggest changing the name of M13 to something more appreciative. In Latin, Omni filis means omni wires. While you’re at it, remember that viruses are plentiful and that there are hundreds of thousands of possible templates which could be equally useful. Also note that these are some of the most efficient mechanisms and multi stage biological processes you could ever wish to see. Enjoy, guys, and great work!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about M13 bacteriophage, David H Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Rese, Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusett, Segregating Binary Alloy for NanowireLike PhaseCha, computer processing multiphase
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