- "Demystifying the memristor: Proof of fourth basic circuit element could transform computing"
HP Labs (April, 2008)
"Researchers at HP Labs have solved a decades-old mystery by proving the existence of a fourth basic element in integrated circuits that could make it possible to develop computers that turn on and off like an electric light.
"The memristor — short for memory resistor - could make it possible to develop far more energy-efficient computing systems with memories that retain information even after the power is off, so there's no wait for the system to boot up after turning the computer on. It may even be possible to create systems with some of the pattern-matching abilities of the human brain."
- "Scientists develop new type of memory circuit"
Reuters (April 30, 2008)
"It took about 40 years to find it, but scientists at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Wednesday they discovered a fourth basic type of electrical circuit that could lead to a computer you never have to boot up.
"The finding proves what until now had only been theory -- but could save millions from the tedium of waiting for a computer to find its 'place,' the researchers said.
"Basic electronics theory teaches that there are three fundamental elements of a passive circuit -- resistors, capacitors and inductors.
"But in the 1970s, Leon Chua of the University of California at Berkeley, theorized there should be a fourth called a memory resistor, or memristor, for short, and he worked out the mathematical equations to prove it."
- "HP Researchers Build Intelligent Memory"
PC World (April 30, 2008)
"Researchers at Hewlett-Packard have developed a working unit of a memory circuit that has existed in theory for 37 years, which could ultimately replace RAM and make computers more intelligent by tracking data it has retained.
"The technology, called memristor, could allow computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns of data it has collected, similar to human brains collecting and understanding a series of events."
- "HP Engineers Claim Memristor Breakthrough"
eWeek.com (April 30, 2008)
"HP Labs engineers claim they have discovered a long-sought circuit element that could lead to new ways of creating memory.
"HP Labs engineers are claiming a breakthrough in the field of electrical engineering that could lead to an entirely new class of chip memory that might one day replace traditional DRAM technology."
From what I read, the memristor was described in mathematical terms about thirty years ago. Now, it's an emerging technology. I'm sure that it will make for faster, more efficient, and easier-to-use computers.
One bit of speculation that kept showing up, I'm a little skeptical about: "The technology ... could allow computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns of data it has collected, similar to human brains collecting and understanding a series of events."
It seems to me that, although the memristor should revolutionize computer design, and end that seemingly-interminable wait while your computer boots, there isn't really a link between the memristor's properties and allowing "computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns of data it has collected..."
As far as I can tell, the memristor is a revolutionary advance in digital memory technology. But, it's still a memory technology. We've had computers that can "remember" "past patterns of data" for decades. The memristor should speed up data storage and retrieval cycles enormously, and have other benefits - but the descriptions I read didn't seem to indicate that sort of C3P0-ish potential.
Maybe I missed something.
Update May 1, 2008.
I missed something. Specifically, I missed a Wired article that explains why the memristor is so revolutionary, when it comes to emulating brain functions.
The articles I cited made the assertion that memristors would "allow computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns" but didn't (my opinion) adequately back up the claim. After following developments, real and imagined, in AI for the last forty years or so, I'm sorry to say that it sounded like marketing hype.
Thank you, Anonymous, for pointing the Wired article out. The key point is that memristors can be made to simulate the analog functions of our brains. The things can be, functionally, much more similar to our neural circuits than a digital computer.
"Scientists Create First Memristor: Missing Fourth Electronic Circuit Element"
Wired (April 30, 2008)
"Indeed, Leon himself noted the similarity between his own predictions of the properties for a memristor and what was then known about synapses in the brain. One of his suggestions was that you could perhaps do some type of neuronal computing using memristors. HP Labs thinks that's actually a very good idea.
" 'Building an analog computer in which you don't use 1s and 0s and instead use essentially all shades of gray in between is one of the things we're already working on,' says Williams. These computers could do the types of things that digital computers aren't very good at –- like making decisions, determining that one thing is larger than another, or even learning.
"While a lot of researchers are currently trying to write a computer code that simulates brain function on a standard machine, they have to use a huge machines with enormous processing power to simulate only tiny portions of the brain.
"Williams and his team say they can now take a different approach: 'Instead of writing a computer program to simulate a brain or simulate some brain function, we're actually looking to build some hardware based upon memristors that emulates brain-like functions,' says Williams." [emphasis mine]