As the improbability drive in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy nobly demonstrated, being able to calculate probability can make a drastic difference, and a DARPA and venture-funded spin-off firm from MIT called Lyric Semiconductor reckons it can use probability to oust binary from the computing world.
"For over 60 years, computers have been based on digital computing principles," explains Lyric, where "data is represented as bits (0s and 1s), Boolean logic gates perform operations on these bits and a processor steps through many of these operations serially in order to perform a function."
However, Lyric points out that, "today's most interesting problems are not at all suited to this approach." According to the semiconductor start-up, "for problems in the probability domain, even the values used in these most basic operations are not constrained to be either a 0 or a 1. Instead, the basic gates must determine the probability that a bit is a 1, or the probability that it is a 0."
Lyric's technology is still based on silicon transistors, but these aren't switched on or off like a normal transistor. Instead, there are apparently variations between the two states, like you might get with a variable resistor. The varying levels correspond with probability, enabling the processor to make quick decisions based on its instincts, rather than having to go through every possible calculation.
The company describes its work as "redesigning information processing circuits from the ground up to natively process probabilities: from the gate circuits to the processor architecture to the programming language." Lyric explains that probability algorithms usually "involve two-way communications between nodes in one of a few basic graph structures."
According to Lyric, such a graph structure can be mapped directly to the architecture of a Lyric processor, resulting in a small, low-power chip that makes today's CPUs look like giants. The first product to use the technology is a LEC (Lyric Error Correction) chip for flash memory (pictured), which Lyric says us 30 times smaller and uses a 12th of the power of today's binary equivalents.
"After a decade of development, we have no shortage of opportunities for our probability processing technology," says Lyric Semiconductor CEO and co-founder Ben Vigoda, adding: "We are starting with Lyric Error Correction but ultimately plan to develop a more general purpose probability processor that will truly change the landscape for many applications."
However, in the future, Lyric reckons it can take on the processor giants of the world and replace the CPU as we know it. Vigoda, explained: "We are starting with Lyric Error Correction but ultimately plan to develop a more general purpose probability processor that will truly change the landscape for many applications."
The company is currently developing a processor called the GP5, which it's hoping to release in 2013. According to Lyric, the new chip "could enable performance gains of 1,000x over today's digital x86-based systems such as the processors from Intel and AMD."
However, this would require a complete overhaul of the x86 software business as we know it. Lyric says the GP5 will specifically run code written in Lyrics Probability Synthesis to Bayesian Logic (PSBL) programming language.