What is the far future of computing?

I had planned on making my second blog post about Wine, however my last week was more difficult than I anticipated. I have not had time to mess around with it, and instead spent my time writing software.  

I had quite the interesting conversation with my friends about the future of computing. We started with the concept of security, and what it took to safeguard systems as well as break into them. We came to the conclusion that it all seemed to be a numbers game. Given a certain amount of processing power, you had to use it cleverly to safeguard a system. With the same amount of processing power, you can utilize brute force to break into a system. That loosely translates to it being more difficult to safeguard a system than it is to break into it. Of course there are notable exceptions, such as clever exploits which could bypass security in entirety. While it would rarely be that straightforward, and sometimes not true, we called it a general observation.

Next we got into the topic of what computing was at its most fundamental level. At first we thought of alternate bases, instead of binary. But the conversation quickly evolved to thinking further outside the box. We discussed optical computing, but again came to the conclusion that it was merely a different implementation of modern computing. We then thought of organic computing, and talked about the lab which managed to store data in synthetic DNA. The more surprising part of it to us was the fact that they managed to retrieve the data with 100% accuracy. But again, it was only an organic method to store bits in a conventional computing system.

We tried to come up with an entirely different form of computing, but couldn’t. Everything we could think of was related to current methods. I have been wondering if that’s because we are trained to think about it in one way, or if the current methods are truly the most simplified possible. Granted we did come up with some unique ideas, but they were different implementations of current systems, not a new system in and of itself.

2 thoughts on “What is the far future of computing?

  1. really fascinating conversation! Did you discuss quantum computing? I guess it would be related to working in alternate bases and/or parallel computing, so perhaps it isn’t fundamentally deferent than what we do now?

    I suspect the difficulty in thinking outside the box and inventing an entirely new way of computing is due both because it’s hard to think differently from the way we are trained, and it’s a really hard thing to do, in general.

    How would you define what computing is at a fundamental level?

    Are our brains computing fundamentally the same way we implement digitally, or are they doing something different? Do you think we are restricted in some fashion when thinking about “what is computing” by how our own brains function? On the flip side, what would it mean to ask a digital computer “what is computing?”

    • We did discuss quantum computing and alternate bases, as well as 3D microchips and optical computing, but thought that those paths really just made current systems better. Granted they would enable massive increases in power, but we were explicitly trying to come up with the most radical, not necessarily the most powerful or even useful ideas. The conversation was more an exercise in thinking outside the box than looking for practical innovation.

      At the end of the conversation, we all agreed that modern computing in general was the manipulation of information using a set pattern. Most of these patterns were mathematical, and numerically based. We were trying to think of a way to break that but still accomplish the same things that you can with computing today. Our “brick wall” was the fact that to store and retrieve information, it must have a pattern to it. The furthest we could get away from current systems was changing the pattern from being numeric and mathematical to chemical or cellular. In some sort of organic computing system, information could be encoded using different molecules or maybe even dedicated cells, and manipulated through some chemical processes or engineered cells. Unfortunately none of us understood biology well enough to discuss any form of implementation, we were solely discussing theoretical operation.

      While an organic computing system would be revolutionary, we thought it held too many similarities to current computing systems. An organic computing system, as we came to understand it, was still just manipulating information based on a pattern. We were trying to remove the need for a pattern, but in doing so the whole system fell apart. Any information needs an associated pattern to exist meaningfully. Someone or something needs to understand that pattern to view the information as information instead of nonsense or garbage. That is where we tried to look outside the box and think of an example of information without a pattern, but we could not come up with anything. We were wondering if our inability to think of an example was a product of the way information exists to us, or if we had gotten to the most fundamental point where no alternatives exist.

      As far as the actual implementation of computing in the human brain, none of us understand that well enough to have an intelligent conversation on the topic. All we know are basic things like neurons and synapses, but even then we don’t know how they fit together and work. We need a neurobiologist in our group.

      At the end of the discussion the above blog was about, we had agreed to do some thinking and/or research on organic computing or higher level synthetic computing. We are currently having a discussion where we are essentially split down the middle when it comes to choosing a “better” path, organic or higher level synthetic computing. I will certainly be making my next blog post on the results of that ongoing discussion.

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