Analog computer approach promises faster complex computations

Analog computer approach promises faster complex computations

Technology News |
Researchers at Loughborough University have proposed a novel principle for a unique kind of computer that would use analog technology in place of digital or quantum components.
By Rich Pell

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The unique device, say the researchers, would be able to carry out complex computations extremely quickly – possibly, even faster than today’s supercomputers and at vastly less cost than any existing quantum computers. The principle uses time delay to overcome the barriers in optimization problems (choosing the best option from a large number of possibilities), such as Google searches that aim to find the optimal results matching the search request.

Unlike algorithm-based optimization, the procedure would not require complex decision-making and complicated computer code – it could potentially be implemented without a digital computer based on the physical principles of analog devices. In theory, say the researchers, to operate the device, the user would turn a volume-control handle from the smallest to the highest setting, only instead of the volume the operator would increase and then decrease the value of the time delay.

Optimization, say the researchers, could be viewed as a journey of an imaginary golf ball on a landscape with many wells of different widths, shapes and depths, towards the bottom of the lowest well. Any optimizing device should have a mechanism forcing this golf ball to travel between different wells while looking for the deepest one.

“One can imagine the ground randomly shaking like in an earthquake and making the ball jump over the walls separating the wells,” says Dr Natalia Janson, co-author of two papers on the research. “Which is a typical procedure emulated by digital computers.”

“Alternatively,” says Janson, “the ball could, counterintuitively, penetrate the walls via quantum tunnelling, which is used in the existing quantum computers. The new alternative way exploits rather intricate phenomena occurring in nonlinear systems, which in mathematics are known as bifurcations.”

Bifurcation is a drastic change in the behavior of the system after a parameter is changed by a negligibly small amount.

“In the proposed setting,” says Janson, “bifurcations are evoked by incorporation of a time delay into the system, which serves as controlling parameter and whose increase effectively destroys the barriers separating different wells in the landscape and allows the fictitious golf ball to explore different wells. The removal of barriers via bifurcations caused by delay could provide another way to overcome the barriers in optimization problems, in addition to climbing or tunnelling them.”

For more, see “Delay-induced homoclinic bifurcations in modified gradient bistable systems and their relevance to optimization” and “Optimization with delay-induced bifurcations.”

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