Thursday, July 7, 2011

Geekology - a myth of the rise against the machines.

It’s not often I find news that strings together the things I love: quantum physics and computing, sustainability, and radical positive perspectives.

Naturally, I have to dwell a moment on the topic and imagine the possibilities. If you should also care for the market place, I ‘d say there are enough hints in this piece of news that may direct your attention on selecting an interesting portfolio. Don’t say I didn’t tell you this in 2050.

Recently two physicists from University of Arizona postulated a new computer hardware model using the magnetic field of an electron to store all those 1s and 0s. They made some interesting observations about the predicable patterns between the presence of a spin current of an electron and the charge current within Zeeman field B. They were also able to show the zero-field derivative is proportional to the magnitude of the spin current, with an independent coefficient.

The electron’s spin does not actually spin. It did spin my head upside-down back in graduate school.
The electron’s spin is the unpredictable part of the EPR Paradox, Every electron has a mass, a charge, and a magnetic moment – a Spin. It’s sort of part of its identity with a magnetic north and south pole. The spin depends on which pole is pointing up. (If I remember correctly, the spin was what gave the calculation of nonlocal behavior at the quantum level so much trouble.)

Geek talk aside, what this means is there may be a way to translate magnetic spin of electrons into predicable electric signals. Instead of the current microprocess of digitizing information into 1s and 0s by the electric charge, only the orientation of an electron’s spin is used to determine if information should be coded as 0 or 1.

"We take advantage of a nanoscale structure known as a quantum point contact, which one can think of as the ultimate bottleneck for electrons," 

Professor Philippe Jacquod explained.

"As the electrons are flowing through the circuit, their motion through that bottleneck is constrained by quantum mechanics. Placing a small magnetic field around that constriction allows us to measure the spin of the electrons."

This is a huge step in the development of computing based on spintronics. Harnessing the magnetic properties of electrons, rather than their electric charge, brings a host of benefits. According to Professor Jacquod, spintronics may reduce boot time, store working memory in a loss of power, and reduce energy use since it is not charge-based and does not have to run an electric current all the time just to keep the working memory data at the right value.  For a green minded techie like me, in this heavy consumption world, I welcome the news.

Spintronics is a major step towards quantum computing. In my wildest imaginations, quantum calculations are not only encoded as 1s and 0s, but may be done for intermediate states simultaneously. That means calculating uncertainties and generating parallel process to scope context that is critical to human speech and emotional reactions. When we achieve that step, we would have the Ghost in the Shell problem that defined my Neromancer Cyber Punks Generation.

But my dreams are still far and far away. I won’t be getting that model of android assistant anytime soon. I doubt I could even find a 100% post-consumer-waste model either. But given the current interest to boost computing power and reducing energy use, I'd say this discovery is worth noting in the sustainability community.

Well, if you need more reason why you should care about this new discovery, email me when the world is taken over by benevolent artificial intelligent beings... we will talk about rebellion plans.

In the mean time, let me know if you have any good tips on reducing our current computer energy use. I hear it's a big problem these days.

Philippe Jacquod is an associate professor with joint appointments in the College of Optical Sciences and the department of physics at the College of Science, at University of Arizona. He published the research together with his postdoctoral assistant, Peter Stano.

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