Weird computer architectures

Quantum computing is getting quite the buzz, but there are other bizarre computer architectures bubbling and buzzing away in research laboratories. New Scientist compiled a survey of the "Ten Weirdest Computers," from reversible chips that recover energy usually lost with each operation, to magnetic (NMR) computing that leverages the dynamics of molecular interactions, to slime mold computers. From New Scientist:
Toshiyuki Nakagaki at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research in Nagoya, Japan, has shown that slime mould can work out the shortest route through a maze.

In his experiments, the masses of independent amoeba-like cells that act as a single organism would initially spread out to explore all the possible paths of a maze.

But when one train of cells found the shortest path to some food hidden at the maze's exit the rest of the mass stopped exploring. The slime mould then withdrew from the dead end routes and followed the direct path to the food.


  1. I was hoping they would talk about trinary computers, which are base three instead of base two. Unlike these theoretical computers, there was actually a trinary computer built and used in the 50’s. Instead of bits, they used trits. The equivalent of a byte was called a trite.

    They even had one to describe the nibble (half a byte), called a tribble.

  2. @ Lars Haeh: Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I am by no measure of the word a computer scientist, but I’ve wondered for years whether computing might make the quantum leap if we could get past binary. Personally, I like the idea of an octary system, which could correspond to both the octave and the primary and secondary colors plus black & white. I think G.I. Gurdjieff would approve.

  3. ****there is a certain beauty evinced in the sparks of life that flash into posts as the planetary terminator advances. As darkness encroaches behind with fading light, the twinkling of live keyboards flares bright with the evening’s leisure as work is done and social contacts renewed, then steadily gives way to sleep and the next wave flashes to light as the Earth spins and the sun comes up…..****

  4. @#1 A great discussion on the benefits of ternary arithmetic can be found in Brian Hayes’ 2001 column for American Scientist titled “Third Base” (easily found by a websearch). The article also discusses the benefits of using balanced ternary representation (which uses the digits 1, 0 and -1 instead of 0, 1 and 2).

    @#4 Be careful of making comments like these… you’re likely to trigger all sorts of nerds with their own convictions to come crawling out of the woodwork (or perhaps just me). Here are my causes, hopeless though they may be:

    Human Math: Dozenal, not Decimal!

    Computer Architecture: Balanced Ternary, not Binary!

    Keyboards: Dvorak, not QWERTY!

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