A team of researchers from Japan and Michigan Technological University has built a massively parallel molecular computer.
"Modern computers are quite fast, capable of executing trillions of instructions a second, but they can’t match the intelligent performance of our brain," says physicist Ranjit Pati of Michigan Tech.
"Our neurons only fire about a thousand times per second. But I can see you, recognize you, talk with you, and hear someone walking by in the hallway almost instantaneously, a Herculean task for even the fastest computer."
The researchers used DDQ, a hexagonal molecule made of nitrogen, oxygen, chlorine and carbon that self-assembles in two layers on a gold substrate.
The DDQ molecule can switch among four conducting states, unlike the binary switches used by most computers.
"The neat part is, approximately 300 molecules talk with each other at a time during information processing. We have mimicked how neurons behave in the brain," Pati says.
"The evolving neuron-like circuit network allows us to address many problems on the same grid, which gives the device intelligence."
As a result, the processor can solve problems beyond the capabilities of standard algorithms, especially interacting many-body problems, such as predictions of natural calamities and outbreaks of disease.
To illustrate this, the researchers successfully mimicked two natural phenomena in the molecular layer: heat diffusion and the evolution of cancer cells.
In addition, their molecular processor heals itself if there's a defect, thanks to the self-organizing ability of the molecular monolayer.
"No existing man-made computer has this property, but our brain does," says Anirban Bandyopadhyay from the National Institute for Materials Science. "If a neuron dies, another neuron takes over its function."
"This is very exciting, a conceptual breakthrough," Pati says. "This could change the way people think about molecular computing."