Thought for the day: Jelly good show!

The concept has been around for some time, but Simon Moores admits to being a little awed by the arrival of the DNA computer.

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The concept has been around for some time, but Simon Moores admits to being a little awed by the arrival of the DNA computer.




The technology sector may be at its lowest ebb for a generation but progress, like politics, shows little respect for economics.

In the same week I read that Sun Microsystems plans to create processors that will increase its blade server throughput by an impressive-sounding factor of 30 beyond 2005, I see that Israeli scientists have devised a computer that can perform "330 trillion operations per second". This is more than 100,000 times faster than the quickest PC with us today, shattering Moore’s Law in the process.

While Sun is initiating what it calls "throughput" in its processors, combining chip multithreading to allow a single processor to execute tens of threads simultaneously, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, they have arrived at a new computing paradigm and a radically different view of threading which might sit more comfortably on the set of a Star Trek movie.

What makes this new computer a little different is that it’s made of jelly, DNA, in fact and, while the idea has been around for some time - I wrote about it five years ago - it’s taken that long for the blob to sweep past the best that Intel or anyone else can put up against it.

The blade, or blob, if you can describe a jelly in such a way, is a programmable molecular computing machine composed of enzymes and DNA molecules rather than silicon processors. The big breakthrough in the research is the harnessing of the single DNA molecule that provides the computer with its input as a fuel source to "power" the device; an enzyme breaks bonds in the DNA double helix, triggering the release of enough energy for the system to be self-sufficient.

Last week, The Guinness Book of Records recognised Israel’s DNA computer as "the smallest biological computing device" ever constructed in an area that is likely to transform our understanding of computing as dramatically as the appearance of the first IBM PC 20 years ago.

If, like me, you’re having trouble attempting to imagine carrying your intelligent laptop supercomputer around in a refrigerated dish 10 years from now, then I don’t blame you. But think back 20 years and most of us then would have had trouble imagining the wired world of 2003.

Add this kind of news to the imminent arrival of the first terabyte hard drives, then carrying the world in the palm of your hand becomes much less science fiction and much more of a serious probability before the end of the decade.

Will such machines run "best with Windows"? That’s anyone’s guess, but I wonder if the operating system argument will have become entirely meaningless by then. Will tomorrow’s jellies, I wonder, carry an Intel Inside logo, and what might happen if you leave one out in the sun?

It’s all too much for me, and one really has to wonder how enterprise IT will cope now that we are just about done with "fourth wave" computing and are starting to picture a future where both processor power and storage appear almost limitless by today’s standards.

One thing you can be sure of, though. Software won’t be free, jellies will, occasionally, crash or, dare I say it, melt down, and there’ll still be the familiar heated arguments over standards and open-source computing.

What do you think?
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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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