Stories tagged computing

It's Friday, so let's get a new Science Friday video up. Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
Today:
"Bubbles can do computations, says Stanford professor Manu Prakash. Just like electrons running through wires in your computer, Prakash and Neil Gershenfeld, of MIT, directed bubbles through tiny etched tubes and showed basic computations were possible. Because the presence of a bubble can influence the behavior of another bubble, Prakash was able to build "and," "or" and "not" gates. Bubbles are bigger and slower than electrons, but they can carry things--meaning you could create as you compute, Prakash says."

Today marks the 60th anniversary of LEO (Lyons Electronic Office), the world’s first business computer, which was created by J. Lyons & Company, an organization known for operation of tea shops in Great Britain, as well as being a biscuit manufacturer and founder of the Wimpy burger chain.

After World War II ended, the increase in office costs made Lyons realize that some form of automation was needed to bring these costs under control. Before World War II, Lyons had developed a reputation for factory and office efficiency. Lyons' policy was to control their own service departments (legal, shipping, laundries, box making, food laboratories, tea estates, wine cellars, etc.), so they tackled the ambitious task of building an electronic computer, even though they had no history of electronics. Nothing was available to them at this time to meet their needs, so they set about designing and building one themselves.

LEO's first task, and the world’s first business Close-Up of LEO/1 Control Desk
Close-Up of LEO/1 Control DeskCourtesy LEO Computers Society

computing application, was to calculate the costs of Lyons’ weekly bakery distribution run. Previously, this task had been carried out by hand by accounts clerks. At first, LEO was unreliable, but improvements were made on a weekly basis. Two years later, in December 1953, LEO was given the important job of calculating Lyons’ payroll. A milestone was reached on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1953, when the task of calculating a employees pay took LEO only 1.5 seconds, whereas before it took an experienced clerk a total of 8 minutes.

News Article: How a chain of tea shops kickstarted the computer age

Website for LEO Computers Society: http://www.leo-computers.org.uk

Mar
13
2010

Photon computing

Diamond nanowires emit photons: A Harvard-based team has manufactured a matrix of diamond nanowires with defects called nitrogen vacancies. When stimulated with green light, these defects emit one red photon at a time. Such a construct is promising for the new field of quantum computing
Diamond nanowires emit photons: A Harvard-based team has manufactured a matrix of diamond nanowires with defects called nitrogen vacancies. When stimulated with green light, these defects emit one red photon at a time. Such a construct is promising for the new field of quantum computingCourtesy Zina Deretsky, NSF

Most computers and communications rely upon controlling the flow of electrons. Such devices would be faster and more secure if they used particles of light (photons).
A research team led by Marko Loncar just published how a "diamond nanowire device acts as a nanoscale antenna that funnels the emission of single photons from the embedded color center into a microscope lens."

"This exciting result is the first time the tools of nanofabrication have been applied to diamond crystals in order to control the optical properties of a single defect," said Loncar.

Faster and more secure

Not only is communicating through optical fibers more efficient, there is no easy way for eavesdroppers to "tap the line".

"The resulting device may prove easy to couple into a standard optical fiber. This novel approach is a key technological step towards achieving fast, secure computing and communication." nsf.gov/news

Learn more about diamond-based nanowire devices

Digging deep into diamonds Harvard Gazette

Jul
23
2007

Perfect plays: Through 18 years of computer analysis, researchers at the University of Alberta have figured out all the moves to play the perfect game of chess. Their computer, they say, will never lose a game. (Photo by Bring back Buck)
Perfect plays: Through 18 years of computer analysis, researchers at the University of Alberta have figured out all the moves to play the perfect game of chess. Their computer, they say, will never lose a game. (Photo by Bring back Buck)
Games don’t come much easier than checkers, right? Red and black discs, 12 on each side, jumping around diagonally on a board featuring 64 squares.

Well, it’s all over now. Computer researchers at the University of Alberta have announced that they have finally “solved” checkers. Running computer simulations taking into account 39 trillion possible combinations of checkers on a checkerboard, they’ve calculated the right moves to make in any checkers situation in order to win a game. Of course, in order to have that success in order to beat your older brother or sister in a game of checkers, you’d need to have the memory capacity in your brain of some of the world’s top computers.

And how long did it take to run all those possible checkers scenarios? 18 years. Five years into the project, the Canadian computer was able to defeat the reigning world checker champion, using some standard “rule of thumb” thinking.

But the researchers wanted more, a no-lose scenario for the computer which could take into account every checkerboard possibility. That led to 13 mores years of the computer analyzing the perfect move to make on a checkerboard with up to 10 pieces left on it.

So if you take on the computer, you’ll never win. If your brain should be at peak levels and make every perfect move, the most you can hope for is a draw.

Why is this a big deal?

It lays the groundwork for computer calculations that can help to make decisions on bigger problems.

Despite the marathon scope of the effort, Schaeffer is pleased with the results and their implications for solving other gargantuan computing problems.

"It's one million times bigger than the biggest computation previously solved optimally," says Jonathon Schaeffer, part of the University of Alberta team. "I'm hoping people will try to solve something big like that with our technology or similar technology, maybe people will do bigger and better things."

Do you think you’re smarter than the checkers computer? You can play against it by going to www.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook.

That’s all pretty cool, but I’ll really be impressed when they come up with a computer that can play the perfect Monopoly game.