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Thermodynamic Computing

by   Tom Conte, et al.

The hardware and software foundations laid in the first half of the 20th Century enabled the computing technologies that have transformed the world, but these foundations are now under siege. The current computing paradigm, which is the foundation of much of the current standards of living that we now enjoy, faces fundamental limitations that are evident from several perspectives. In terms of hardware, devices have become so small that we are struggling to eliminate the effects of thermodynamic fluctuations, which are unavoidable at the nanometer scale. In terms of software, our ability to imagine and program effective computational abstractions and implementations are clearly challenged in complex domains. In terms of systems, currently five percent of the power generated in the US is used to run computing systems - this astonishing figure is neither ecologically sustainable nor economically scalable. Economically, the cost of building next-generation semiconductor fabrication plants has soared past 10 billion. All of these difficulties - device scaling, software complexity, adaptability, energy consumption, and fabrication economics - indicate that the current computing paradigm has matured and that continued improvements along this path will be limited. If technological progress is to continue and corresponding social and economic benefits are to continue to accrue, computing must become much more capable, energy efficient, and affordable. We propose that progress in computing can continue under a united, physically grounded, computational paradigm centered on thermodynamics. Herein we propose a research agenda to extend these thermodynamic foundations into complex, non-equilibrium, self-organizing systems and apply them holistically to future computing systems that will harness nature's innate computational capacity. We call this type of computing "Thermodynamic Computing" or TC.


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