Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Unbound Convergence" and the "Distributed Mesh" . . . surprises along the way . . .

Aristotle (384 ‐ 322 BCE [approximately 2,370 years ago]) proposed “natural,” “violent,” and “local” modes of motion with the rule that “nothing moves unless it is moved by a mover” 1  And for about 1,950 of those years, scholars attempted to improve on this philosophical viewpoint but without much success.  In fact, the Italian astronomer and physicist, Galileo Galilei (1564 ‐ 1642 CE), proposed the idea that since asking the "why?" of moving things had not been very productive, perhaps just simply describing "how" things move would be more productive.  And, thus, the “science” of physics was born ‐ with two new philosophical topics:  “matter” and “energy.”

But, it was up to the English physicist and mathematician (“natural philosopher”), Sir Isaac Newton (1642 ‐ 1726), to propose the three laws of motion 2  which hold sway in classical mechanics:
  1. an object tends to continue in its motion at a constant velocity until and unless an outside force acts on it;
  2. an outside force is any action that causes an object to change the speed or direction with which it is moving; 3  and
  3. for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.
Then, more recently, the German theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein (1879 ‐ 1955), proposed the theories of general and special relativity, which deal with the observed gravitational and electrical field effects between masses (that even Newton was struggling with) due to the “warping” of the space-time continuum.  His further work opened up the field of quantum mechanics.  And even now, a number of open questions remain, the most fundamental of which is how general relativity can be reconciled with the laws of quantum physics to produce a complete and self-consistent theory of quantum gravity.

Fast forward to a recent (April 21, 2015) MIT Technology Review (May / June 2015) article ‐ “Machine Dreams” ‐ which highlights the possible impact of a new kind of memory ‐ memristor (“memory resistor”) 4 ‐ on the "ancient" computer architecture still in use from the 1940s (75 years old).  That old architecture of two-tiers ‐ storage and memory ‐ stores its operating system, programs, and files on either a hard disk or flash drive.  And, in order to run a program or load a document, the data has to be retrieved from the drive over metal wiring and loaded into a form of random access memory (RAM) that is faster but can't store data very densely or hold on to it when the power to the machine is turned off.  The new architecture scraps the distinction between storage and memory, not only utilizing this new form of memory, which is faster than RAM, holds it data when the machine is powered down, and can store more data than comparable hard drives of today, 5 but also passing the data via photonics (light and fiber optics) to a group of specialized energy-efficient processors.

As stated in the MIT article, “Tests with the closest thing to a working version of the Machine ‐ a simulation running inside a cluster of powerful servers ‐ hint at what Carbon [the MACHINE's operating system {see below}] and the new computer might be able to deliver once up and running.  In one trial, the simulated Machine and a conventional computer raced to analyze a photo and search a database of 80 million other images to find the five that were most visually similar.  The off-the-shelf, high-powered [Hewlett-Packard {HP}] server completed the task in about two seconds.  The simulated Machine needed only 50 milliseconds.” 6  All of this while sipping only a little bit of energy.  And, at the “MACHINE” announcement presentation, HP CEO, Meg Whitman, compared that with the energy used by cloud computing today ‐ “[I]f cloud computing were a country, in terms of energy, it would rank fifth in the world.”

Of course, this “MACHINE” will require a new operating system, and HP is hoping for a June, 2015 release of a Linux version (Linux++) which will include simulated hardware for the memory and processor systems.  The real operating system for the “MACHINE” has been named “Carbon” and is slated for beta release in 2017.

If we take the beginning of the nanotechnology movement as the coining of the term by Professor Norio Taniguchi, formerly of Tokyo Science University, at the International Conference on Production Engineering in Tokyo in 1974, 7 then it is interesting to note that in 1995, HP hired UCLA chemistry professor, R. Stanley Willams, to establish HP's first fundamental research program, investigating whether organic molecules could be smaller replacements for silicon transistors.  The reasons: 
  1. costs of fabrication plants for silicon ($30 billion not unheard of for 2010) were forcing silicon industry leaders out of the business; and
  2. fundamental physics and materials limitations as things get smaller and smaller (not to mention the physics of traditional lithography).
Even in 1999, other research teams were working hard to make a single brick and hoping that once it was made there might be a way to connect it in a circuit or a system.  Williams' team approach was to look at the architectural drawing of the entire system and then look for the best methods and materials to make (or remake, if necessary) the system.  And the surprises?

From the MIT article, “After a few years, [Williams] could make devices with the right kind of switchlike behavior by sandwiching molecules called rotaxanes between platinum electrodes.  But their performance was maddeningly erratic.  It took years more work before Williams realized that the molecules were actually irrelevant and that he had stumbled into a major discovery.  The switching effect came from a layer of titanium, used like glue to stick the rotaxane layer to the electrodes.”  And even more surprising, versions of the devices built around that material fulfilled a prediction made in Professor Chua's 1970 paper of a completely new kind of basic electronic device ‐ the “memristor”.

Williams and his team announced their findings in Nature, May 1, 2008, and have been going strong ever since; especially since 2012, when Martin Fink, HP CTO, put memristors at the heart of the blueprint for the MACHINE.

Further Background:

HP Discover, 2014 - June 11th Announcement of The Machine - CEO Meg Whitman and EVP and CTO Martin Fink

UCSD Center for Networked System's Winter Research Review January, 2010 - R. Stanley Williams' keynote presentation on memristor technology


June 12, 2015 - TechRadar reports “HP's ‘The Machine’ changes its spots

1 In his Φυσικὴ ἀκρόασις (eight books of philosophical lectures on nature [or "The Physics"]), in response to which:
  • Martin Heidegger once wrote:  “The Physics is a lecture in which [Aristotle] seeks to determine beings that arise on their own, τὰ φύσει ὄντα, with regard to their being.  Aristotelian "physics" is different from what we mean today by this word, not only to the extent that it belongs to antiquity whereas the modern physical sciences belong to modernity, rather above all it is different by virtue of the fact that Aristotle's "physics" is philosophy, whereas modern physics is a positive science that presupposes a philosophy . . . .  This book determines the warp and woof of the whole of Western thinking, even at that place where it, as modern thinking, appears to think at odds with ancient thinking.  But opposition is invariably comprised of a decisive, and often even perilous, dependence.  Without Aristotle's Physics there would have been no Galileo.” (The Principle of Reason, translated by Reginald Lilly, [Indiana University Press, 1991], pp. 62–63.)
  • and
  • Bertrand Russell opined:  "“[The Physics was] . . . extremely influential, and dominated science until the time of Galileo ... The historian of philosophy, accordingly, must study [it], in spite of the fact that hardly a sentence in [it] can be accepted in the light of modern science.” (History of Western Philosophyand its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, {George Allen & Unwin, 1946]. p. 226 [see the entire chapter "Aristotle's Physics," pp. 226-230.)
Mathematically, the force of an external mover acting on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by its velocity of motion (or speed F = m * s - where speed is the force of the external mover divided by the resistance of the medium through or against which it is moving).

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2 In his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"), first published in 1687; see also the more recent (1936) "chymistry" (and χρυσόποιεῖα) works);

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3 Mathematically, the force exerted on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by the acceleration of the object (F = m * a - where acceleration is how fast the velocity of the object is changing and in what direction).

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4 First named and described in a September 15, 1970 technical report (TR-EE-70-39) for the School of Electrical Engineering at Purdue University (Lafayette, Ind.) by Professor Leon O. Chua.  Basically proposed as a fourth class of electrical circuit (along with the resistor, capacitor, and inductor) exhibiting its properties primarily at the nanoscale.  The surprise along the way was actually predicted by Professor Chua in his article when recognizing the impact of "reality tunnel / confirmation bias / consensus reality (or trance)" thinking on his colleagues - that electrical circuits could only be produced utilizing resistors, capacitors, and inductors - and the sway of the v (voltage) - i (current) curve (from those similar perspectives), he wrote in the paper's concluding remarks, "Although no physical memristor has yet been discovered in the form of a physical device without internal power supply, the analyses presented in . . . [this paper] . . . make plausible the notion that a memristor device . . . could be invented, if not discovered accidentally. . . .  Perhaps, our perennial habit of tracing the v-i curve of any new two-terminal device has already misled some of our device-oriented colleagues and prevented them from discovering the true essence of some new device, which could very well be the missing memristor."

The heading for the HP Lab team's May 1, 2008 article in Nature (453:80-83) announcing the discovery is "The Missing Memristor Found".

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5  On June 13, 2013, HP EVP and CTO, Martin Fink, gave a 20 minute presentation at HP Discover in Las Vegas, NV, covering HP's plans for “memristor”; view it here.

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6  See the following HP Labs YouTube link for a presentation on “Extreme Similarity Search”.

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7  Very close to the time of Professor Chua's report, Professor Taniguchi's use of the term was specifically in relation to precision machining - the processing of a material to nano scale precision utilizing primarily ultra-sonic machining.  Subsequently, Professor Taniguchi was deeply involved in the research and application of electron beam processes for nano-fabrication. See the nano-technology timeline and in that timeline compare that 1959 visionary lecture of Professor Richard Feynman entitled “There's plenty of room at the bottom” delivered to the American Physical Society.

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