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The "systemic computer" that repairs itself and never crashes

by Mark Tyson on 18 February 2013, 14:18

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Researchers at University College London (UCL) have developed a computer that can self-repair if a fault is found in its programming. The researchers call it a “systematic” computer”. It gets this name because it completes its tasks, not necessarily sequentially but using processes that are “distributed, decentralised and probabilistic”. Importantly the computer is also fault tolerant because the systems within it contain “multiple copies of its instructions”.

An article detailing the research upon New Scientist says that the systematic computer is more like the human brain in that it contains many systems which are fault tolerant and self-healing. Discussing current computer systems, New Scientist quotes UCL computer scientist Peter Bentley as saying “Nature isn't like that”, he continues “Its processes are distributed, decentralised and probabilistic. And they are fault tolerant, able to heal themselves.” Bentley concludes; “A computer should be able to do that.”

The new systematic computer works in a more chaotic fashion than traditional sequential computers. “Rather than using a program counter, the systems are executed at times chosen by a pseudorandom number generator, designed to mimic nature's randomness,” explains the New Scientist.

No crashing

Systematic computer instructions exist in multiple copies throughout the new type of computer, that’s part of how it works. This has an important knock-on effect that “if one system becomes corrupted the computer can access another clean copy to repair its own code”. The New Scientist says that these kinds of problems can cause regular computers to crash but the systematic computer will “carry on regardless” as each system has its own memory. Furthermore the scientists are now “teaching the computer, via machine learning, to adapt to its environment”.

As crash-proof as OS/2?

As John C. Dvorak writes on PCMag, this new systematic computer sounds all hunky dory but it’s not the first time that a “crash-proof” computer has been put forward. He says that it’s an “idea that sounds good on paper, but never works in practice”, and likens it to the perpertual motion machine concept. Mr Dvorak goes on to mention that OSes like IBM’s OS/2 were once promoted as “crash-proof” and while hard disk drives can be “self-healing”, as they are remapped when bad sectors appear, they still completely fail sometimes.

Looking at the UCL scientists own nature influenced inspirations we must remember that sometimes Nature fails too. Just considering the human brain, our own organic computer, there are many faults that can make it come up with the wrong answer or even stop it working completely.

HEXUS Forums :: 9 Comments

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Reads to me like micro-kernel and rubbish scheduling.
what will happen if windows is installed?
what will happen if windows is installed?
I think it already has, after all the article said "The new systematic computer works in a more chaotic fashion than traditional sequential computers. Rather than using a program counter, the systems are executed at times chosen by a pseudorandom number generator, designed to mimic nature's randomness, explains the New Scientist.

Certainly the copies of Windows I've used have decided to do various things (Windows 7 backup and antivirus scans being my own personal favourites) at times that seem to be pretty damned random. And my tower pc (gaming pc) also has developed a ”lovely“ (sarcasm) habit of deciding to implement a power saving hibernation at crazy times - like in the middle of an A/V scan.

Windows slagging aside (it's just too easy) surely the self-healing really relies on having spare capacity somewhere. So to take the example given in the article, the hard disk can ”repair“ failing sectors by mapping that data to unused capacity held back for that reason. On the other hand, if some component in the drive electronics fails then your drive is DOA.

Wasn't there some talk about adopting some ”fail resistant“ strategy with a minimal kernel (heresy to Microsoft) and ”optional" service tasks. So if a service task fails then the kernel is able to skip it or reload. Last article I read on this even suggested using some technologies from the various hypervisors that are out there and embed the kernel in the same way that BIOS is.

Self repair is probably possible (to a varying extent), but a crash proof computer strikes me a perpetual motion type device.

And what woudl John Connor say …? ;)
Nice to see the olde Amiga getting a pictorial mention