The thing about new paradigms, real ones like the new Mac Pro and solid state drives, is that no one predicts them with much accuracy, but when they appear there’s no mistaking them, either. Their uniqueness and dramatic superiority are immediately apparent. With a few caveats, a new paradigm seems about ready to make itself known – memristors (basically a fancy name for computer memory). If it pans out, it’ll be one of the biggest breakthroughs of 2014.
Is it Time for Memristors?
Soon, your smart phone, the kid’s portable game console, and our iPad rental will need charging only every few weeks—or months. Their speeds and memory capacities will increase by thousands, perhaps millions of times. Equip your sales force with new desktop computers, or rent laptops for a fully mobile workforce, and either way your employees will save time with hardware that boots up instantly. These are the near-magical powers of the memristor—and we’re supposed to see them, well, soon. At least, that was the consensus in 2010. Interest faded until a minor resurgence in mid-2012, then dwindled again until some muted rumblings of late. What gives?
For years the traditional view of electronics held that there were three fundamental elements in circuits. These elements—resistors, capacitors, inductors—were joined in 1971 by a new theoretical element, the memristor (memory + resistor). Standard computer memory stores information by turning electronic switches on and off. Memristors, which are nanoscale devices with variable resistance, remember resistance levels when turned off. The bottom line is they are denser, more energy efficient, incomparably faster than existing electronics, and able to perform multiple functions (processing, storage, etc.). This reconfigurability makes for behavior reminiscent of human brain synapses, a main advantage of which is their incredible adaptability.
What’s the Hang-up?
The memristor design has matured over some 40 years of research and development, much of it undertaken by Hewlett-Packard (HP), a company known for quality and innovation whose workstations are in our computer rental inventory. Although the technology was supposed to begin hitting the market in 2014, “HP has not yet committed to a specific product roadmap,” according to a Wired story of July, 2012. There is no newer statement from HP. The firm appears to be dithering once again, unable to pull the trigger on new initiatives, possibly still gun shy following its WebOS debacle.
This is a project that iMac visionary Steve Jobs would have loved, as the next step is electronic circuits that adapt to varying scenarios—and learn from their choices. Computers with human brain-like behavior may emerge from a future memristor component that will likely start out in a consumer device. That happens all the time if you think about it: Medical diagnosis wasn’t the first task undertaken by the original PC, but the platform matured from a glorified typewriter and Pong game into all kinds of lifesaving tools (on many of which you can still type and play games). Frankly, though, it really is about time for a new paradigm.
Are we ready to make this shift? We’d love to hear from you on this or any other technology trends you think are heading our way in 2014. Not sure about any of this? Contact CRE Rentals, a leading technology rental company based in Los Angeles, for help.