Systemic Computer Is Self-Repairing

A self-repairing machine created at the University College London (UCL) mimics the apparent randomness found in nature and can instantly recover from crashes by repairing corrupted data.

Everyday computers are ill suited to modelling natural processes such as how neurons work or how bees swarm. This is because they plod along sequentially, executing one instruction at a time. "Nature isn't like that," says UCL computer scientist Peter Bentley. "Its processes are distributed, decentralised and probabilistic. And they are fault tolerant, able to heal themselves. A computer should be able to do that."

He and UCL's Christos Sakellariou have created a computer in which data is married up with instructions on what to do with it. For example, it links the temperature outside with what to do if it's too hot. It then divides the results up into pools of digital entities called "systems".

Each system has a memory containing context-sensitive data that means it can only interact with other, similar systems. Rather than using a program counter, the systems are executed at times chosen by a pseudorandom number generator, designed to mimic nature's randomness. The systems carry out their instructions simultaneously, with no one system taking precedence over the others, says Bentley. "The pool of systems interact in parallel, and randomly, and the result of a computation simply emerges from those interactions," he says.

Crucially, the systemic computer contains multiple copies of its instructions distributed across its many systems, so if one system becomes corrupted the computer can access another clean copy to repair its own code. And unlike conventional operating systems that crash when they can't access a bit of memory, the systemic computer carries on regardless because each individual system carries its own memory.

The pair are now working on teaching the computer to rewrite its own code in response to changes in its environment, through machine learning.

In thinking about this device with respect to science fiction, I was reminded of the android Ruk from the classic Star Trek episode What Little Girls Are Made Of; Ruk is able to slowly recapitulate his orders and programming from the Old Ones under stress. Readers may be able to think of others.

Via New Scientist.

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