Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science Technology

Ten Weirdest Types of Computers 163

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the fringe-computing dept.
An anonymous reader writes to mention that New Scientist has a quick round-up of what they consider to be the ten weirdest types of computers. The list includes everything from quantum computers, to slime molds, to pails of water. "Perhaps the most unlikely place to see computing power is in the ripples in a tank of water. Using a ripple tank and an overhead camera, Chrisantha Fernando and Sampsa Sojakka at the University of Sussex, used wave patterns to make a type of logic gate called an "exclusive OR gate", or XOR gate."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ten Weirdest Types of Computers

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:48PM (#23041010)
    a computer if I can't get pr0n.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      OK editors, forget this is /.? Do you really think you have to explain the words behind XOR?
  • by MaDMvD (1148691) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:49PM (#23041012)
    The brain.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279)
      In his early Known Space stories collected in Tales of Known Space [amazon.com] Larry Niven forsaw a future 1975 (ha) where the brains of people managled in car accidents are integrated into spacecraft for guidance, allowing them to continue contributing to society even if their bodies are gone. This entire idea of "brain in a jar" science fiction seems to have faded out with the 1970s.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        except, of course, for "Krang" in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the historical characters in Futurama, etc...
      • by Naughty Bob (1004174) * on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:17PM (#23041314)
        You'd be interested to know that rat's brain cells have already [newscientist.com] (the linked article is from 2004) been harnessed to fly a virtual F-22.

        The singularity, as the man said, is near.
        • by Daimanta (1140543)

          The singularity, as the man said, is near.
          And I still don't have my flying car!
        • FTA - "Ferdinando Mussa-Ivaldi of Northwestern University in Chicago has shown how a few brain cells from a lamprey, a primitive eel-like vertebrate can be used to control a robot."

          I would like to be the first to welcome our robot controlling, primitive eel-like vertebrate Overlords and welcome them to harness the power of our captive rat brain cells for virtual war.

          • by Snowmit (704081)
            I however would like to NOT welcome the flesh eating [seanbaby.com] primitive eel-like vertebrate Overlords.

            Seriously scientists, what's wrong with you?
        • by geekoid (135745)
          Singularity is a myth perpetuated by people with no imagination.
          • Singularity is a myth perpetuated by people with no imagination.
            So when, mighty imaginer, will computing power plateau?
            • by kvezach (1199717)
              So when, mighty imaginer, will computing power plateau?

              Who knows, but it's not important. You can't make a fire build a house, no matter how powerful fuel you're pouring on it. In other words, it's going to take more than just brute force to scale up intelligence.
              • That's pure conjecture- But anyhow, not only do we have no understanding of what, exactly, constitutes human intelligence/consciousness etc, but to describe the ongoing attempts to approximate it as 'brute force' tells me you are equating the clock-cycle race with progress in the area (or you have a rather glamorized impression of brutes....).
                • by kvezach (1199717)
                  You talk about "computing power" as if it plateauing would prevent the singularity, and Kurzweil et al. make diagrams like these [lifeboat.com] that pretty much link Moore's law and the Singularity together.

                  As for brute force not leading to scalable intelligence, just take a quick look at tree search. That's exponential; it's just that, as an example, the game tree for chess is narrow enough that computers can beat grandmasters. And it's not just chess. Many other puzzles, when generalized, are NP-complete, and many ga
        • by hcdejong (561314)
          That's only true for limited values of "fly", though. The task was to keep the aircraft straight and level in variable crosswinds. This can be accomplished with a simple feedback loop. Things like landing are much more complex.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by knarfling (735361)
        Actually, check out Anne McCaffrey's Brainships series. Although the first one, "The Ship Who Sang" was written in 1969, several others like "The Ship Who Searched", and "The City Who Fought" were written in the early 1990's. The last one that I know of, "The City and the Ship" came out in 2004.

        I realize that the only one written only by Anne McCaffrey was the original, "The Ship Who Sang", and the others were co-written by other authors. (Usually that means written by other authors using McCaffrey's univ

      • by c6gunner (950153) on Friday April 11, 2008 @06:12PM (#23041812)

        In his early Known Space stories collected in Tales of Known Space [amazon.com] Larry Niven forsaw a future 1975 (ha) where the brains of people managled in car accidents are integrated into spacecraft for guidance, allowing them to continue contributing to society even if their bodies are gone.
        Some idiot who can't even handle a car ends up causing a massive accident, and Niven wants to let him drive a spaceship? Great idea! What could possibly go wrong?

        On the bright side, I hear collisions at relativistic velocities are rather painless....
      • by Whiteox (919863)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donovan's_Brain [wikipedia.org] was the earliest piece I read ages ago.
        The article also explores the development of the theme.

        A reference to the title can also be found at the end of the Larry Niven short story Becalmed in Hell, in which the character Eric, who lives as a brain and spinal cord on life-support, and works as the directly-connected controller of a NASA exploratory vessel, signs a telegram "DONOVAN'S BRAIN", either as a joke of his own or because Niven surnamed the character "Donovan" in homage.

      • In his early Known Space stories collected in Tales of Known Space [amazon.com] Larry Niven forsaw a future 1975 (ha) where the brains of people managled in car accidents are integrated into spacecraft for guidance, allowing them to continue contributing to society even if their bodies are gone. This entire idea of "brain in a jar" science fiction seems to have faded out with the 1970s.

        Well, maybe jars. Personally, ever since I invented that harmonic portal to the other dimension where I learned how to e

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by syukton (256348)
      An analog asymmetric multiprocessing system complete with random-access memory and a variable-speed bus. Truly, quite weird.

    • by Reziac (43301) *
      Worse -- MY brain!

      [looking around the room]

      Or possibly my computer, which has a mind of its own. ;)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ppc_digger (961188)
      I'm pretty sure Pinky is weirder.
    • by mapkinase (958129)
      Brain is quite lousy computer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by slimjim8094 (941042)
      The brain is Turing-complete, as in it can emulate a Turing machine.

      So does that make people computers by definition?
  • Wetware (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rassleholic (591097) <rassleholic@gmail.com> on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:56PM (#23041088) Homepage
    The one I find most facinating is MONIAC [wikipedia.org]. A cookie to whoever gets it to run linux.
  • No Conway's Life? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pclminion (145572) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:56PM (#23041090)

    Conway's Life is Turing complete. I guess, to a computer scientist, it's not really surprising that an automaton could be Turing complete, but it's still pretty damn awesome to think that little cells replicating on the screen are capable of carrying out any arbitrary computation -- as well as self-reproduction.

    I wonder, with a large enough simulation, if self-reproducing, intelligent entities could evolve out of just a few simple rules (and it's really only one rule, if you code it a certain way).

    • The article missed a lot, but certainly a serious candidate would be the Wireworld Computer, a cellular automaton computer that actually (slowly) computes prime numbers and displays them, done by implementing a digital computer as a cellular automaton. This is an amazing computer, only one op code, and you can watch the data as it flows through the computer, including the stack of 64 registers (a few unused in this program).
    • Re:No Conway's Life? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by frovingslosh (582462) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:31PM (#23041444)
      The article missed a lot, but certainly a serious candidate would be the Wireworld Computer [quinapalus.com], a cellular automaton computer that actually (slowly) computes prime numbers and displays them, done by implementing a digital computer as a cellular automaton. This is an amazing computer, only one op code, and you can watch the data as it flows through the computer, including the stack of 64 registers (a few unused in this program).

      Sorry, due to a typo the link was lost in the previous post.

  • weird |wÉÉ(TM)d|

    adjective

    suggesting something supernatural; uncanny : the weird crying of a seal.

    â informal very strange; bizarre : a weird coincidence | all sorts of weird and wonderful characters.

    I don't really see them as 'weird' as such - different, and fascinating, and many seem to point a potential way forward for computing. I don't see why we should refer to technology moving forward as 'weird'.

    • by Itninja (937614)
      Yeah. The word weird comes from the olde tyme term 'wayward', meaning something unearthly or unnatural. These computers are maybe unusual, but certainly not weird.
      • by tirerim (1108567)
        I don't think that's right. 'Weird' comes from Old English 'wyrd', meaning 'destiny', or more specifically the power to control destiny, as in 'the weird sisters'. That grew into the 'unearthly' or 'unnatural' meanings, which then evolved to the modern meanings, but I don't think it ever had a form of 'wayward'.

        Regardless, though, the word's etymology doens't have much bearing on what it means today, which certainly includes just 'strange' or 'unusual'. There are plenty of more extreme examples out there
    • by value_added (719364) on Friday April 11, 2008 @06:04PM (#23041740)
      weird |wÉÉ(TM)d|

      Weird is trademarked?

      I'm in trouble.
  • Pneumatic computer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:00PM (#23041162) Journal
    When I worked in manufacturing I would occasionally rig up some logic circuits using a series of pneumatic valves. If only a few conditions had to be met (like don't open door if bucket raised) it was cheaper and easier than installing a PLC.
  • Personal favourites (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ozamosi (615254) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:00PM (#23041166) Homepage
    My personal favorites are computers built in Game of Life [rendell-attic.org] and a model railroad [rendell-attic.org].
  • K'nex Computing. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by KinkoBlast (922676)
    You know, someone on Youtube showed off logic gates in K'nex. But it was only and, or, and not.

    Has anyone figured out how to do an xor in k'nex without horrible permutations along the lines of (in scheme, since it's easy for me to think in today)

    (define (xor a b) (and (not (and a b)) (or a b)))

    ?
  • by TheWoozle (984500) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:05PM (#23041222)
    Hex [wikipedia.org]
  • Some better examples (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:06PM (#23041232) Homepage

    Some better examples:

    • The Great Brass Brain [jhu.edu], an analog tide predictor. It was built in 1910, and used until 1966, for regular tide predictions.
    • The Bay Model [army.mil], a working 1.5 acre model of water flow in San Francisco Bay. Built in 1956, in use until 2000. (You can still visit, but it's not used as a research tool any more.)
    • SCEPTRON [aip.org], a mechanical filter bank of quartz fibres which could record and play spectra onto photographic film. This was trainable as a speech recognition system. Early 1960s.
    • The Iconarama. [ed-thelen.org], the USAF's Etch-A-Sketch. This was one of the first large screen displays, basically a plotter/slide projector combo. It could write, but not erase selectively, so units were used in pairs, allowing a redraw by the unit not projecting, then a lamp switch. 1950s.
    • by Intron (870560)
      About 40 years ago one of the railroads built an analog computer for controlling switches and retarders in a gravity classification yard (hump yard). It used ball bearings rolling down tracks to model the rolling cars. Google didn't find anything online about it, so I don't have a link.
  • by still_sick (585332) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:12PM (#23041282)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life [wikipedia.org]

    It is possible for gliders to interact with other objects in interesting ways. For example, if two gliders are shot at a block in just the right way, the block will move closer to the source of the gliders. If three gliders are shot in just the right way, the block will move farther away. This "sliding block memory" can be used to simulate a counter. It is possible to construct logic gates such as AND, OR and NOT using gliders. It is possible to build a pattern that acts like a finite state machine connected to two counters. This has the same computational power as a universal Turing machine, so the Game of Life is as powerful as any computer with unlimited memory: it is Turing complete. Furthermore, a pattern can contain a collection of guns that combine to construct new objects, including copies of the original pattern. A "universal constructor" can be built which contains a Turing complete computer, and which can build many types of complex objects, including more copies of itself.[4]
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:14PM (#23041300) Journal
    They're all impressed by using waves for building logic circuits.
    Want to build your own cheap, brilliantly visual set of logic gates to show kids how digital computing works? Nightlights. Each one is a NOT gate. You put two close to a third's sensor and you have a NOR. Put them some distance away with some blocking material around them (this is fussy) and you can get a NAND. A little bit of thinking and combinatorial logic and you can build anything else from those. I've built stacked, carrying half-adders this way, and it's pretty cool to watch small binary numbers get added.
    Two nightlights, each with its bulb by the other's sensor, are a flip-flop. Now you have memory.
    For extra credit, you can build a ring oscillator by putting an odd number of nightlights in a ring, so each is seeing the next one's sensor, and use that to clock your half-adders and flipflops.
    If I had a lot of money and time, it'd be fun to see how far this could be extended (before I had to start hiring kids as tube runners to keep the whole works going.)
    • Argh, damn mod points, never around when you need 'em. Imaginary +1, Interesting from me, sir.
      • Well, don't mod me interesting -- go build one! Seriously. Nightlights cost like 2/$4 at BigLots! and similar places. The main problem is hooking them all up without potentially electrocuting yourself or going bankrupt buying cheap extension cords. (and for the ring oscillator use the same type of nightlights throughout because if you have different types, they'll often have different delays and sometimes it'll screw up the oscillation and you'll lose pulses.)
  • Weirdest storage. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by argent (18001) <peter@slashdot.2 ... com minus physic> on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:20PM (#23041346) Homepage Journal
    OK, let's go back a ways and look at the weirdest storage systems.

    Mercury delay lines are a good one. Delay lines in general, actually. I recall readong once about a free-space delay line using a laser beam between Earth and a retroreflector on the moon.

    CRT storage tubes are another.
  • by franois-do (547649) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:24PM (#23041386) Homepage
    Stochastic computers represented any value between 0 and 1 (both included) by a probability. A set of random bits were sent according to that probability.

    Multiplication, always a problem with analog computers at the time, was very simply, quickly and cheaply done by an AND chip (one of the inputs had to be decorrelated of the other by a delay line to avoid parasitic correlations). The addition was a little more tricky, but getting (p1+p2)/2 could be achived with just three basic circuits, if I remember well. Of course you had to remember that the value was scaled, well, exactly the same king of caution you had to observe with analog synthetizers at the very same time.

    Details here for whoever is interested... and knows somebody reading French ;-)

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calculateur_stochastique [wikipedia.org] The complexity of keeping trace of scaling, decorrelations and the like could be taken away by monitoring them from an associated PC, now that I am thinking about it. Try it ! You will like it ;-)

  • Puzzle computers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bob Hearn (61879) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:31PM (#23041438) Homepage
    Conway's Life was mentioned, but that is still a deterministic computer.

    Many puzzles have been shown to effectively be nondeterministic computers. E.g., you can make a sliding-block puzzle that is solvable if and only if a given traditional computation succeeds.

    Science News story:

    http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20020817/bob10.asp [sciencenews.org]

    Personal plug:

    Games, Puzzles, and Computation [mit.edu]

  • they didn't mention MONIAC, which is the coolest analogue computers IMHO. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MONIAC_Computer [wikipedia.org]
  • by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:49PM (#23041614)
    What about the Antikythera mechanism [wikipedia.org]?
  • More Weirdness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Friday April 11, 2008 @06:02PM (#23041726)
    In A.K.Dewdney's Scientific American column (and subsequent books) he documents many unusual mechanical computing devices that solve a range of computationally expensive problems. In a chaptered entitled Analog Gadgets in the book The Armchair Universe he describes several mechanical computing devices that solve a number of many computationally expensive problems (with some caveats):

    * a spaghetti powered sorting machine
    * computing a convex hull using a board, nails and a rubber band
    * finding the shortest path joining two nodes of a graph network using brass rings and string
    * finding the minimum Steiner-tree for any number of nodes using pegs sandwiched between parallel sheets of plastic dipped in a soup solution
    * a prime calculator using a pair of lasers and parallel mirrors

    In the next chapter, Gadgets Revisited, he presents:

    * a way to compute the best-fit trend of a graph using a board, nails, rubber bands, and a rod
    * finding the longest path through a network of nodes using segments of string knotted together
    * computing the forth power of a number based on the principle of elasticity and the deflection of a bar of aluminum
    * or the third power of a number by using the same principle applied to a weight placed on the bar
    * light refraction computed with soap film suspended between stepped surfaces
    * optimal position for a refinery using a board with holes, string, a brass ring, and weights proportional to the cost of transportation for each source of raw material
    * number averaging using interconnected graduated glass cylinders
    * cubic polynomial solver using a water tank, a balance beam, two scalepans, and a variety of solids to represent terms of the equation: a cone for x, a paraboloid for x and cylinder for cx, and a sphere for d
    • I hit Submit accidentally.

      That should have read:

      cubic polynomial solver using a water tank, a balance beam, two scalepans, and a variety of solids to represent terms of the equation: a cone for x^3, a paraboloid for x^2 and cylinder for cx, and a sphere for d

      In the Tinkertoy Computer, Dewdney covers the well known Tic-Tac-Toe playing Tinkertoy computer built by MIT, as well as a fanciful computer based on ropes and pulleys featuring an inverter, an OR gate, an AND gate, a multiplexer, a flip-flop, and an ad

  • by tvelocity (812600)
    This article reminds me of a very interesting video on youtube about a marble adding machine [youtube.com]. It is constructed out of wood, and the creator also has made a video explaining how it works [youtube.com], in case anyone would like to build one on his own.
  • For those half blind speed readers among you, it's ripples in a tank of water...
  • Domino Digital Logic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jone_stone (124040) on Friday April 11, 2008 @06:22PM (#23041918) Homepage
    This article makes me think, of course, of my experiments in domino digital logic [pinkandaint.com]
  • That would make possible things that are unfeasible with today's computers â" such as rapidly factoring large prime numbers to crack cryptographic keys.


    Thanks Bill Gates. That really would be a neat trick.
  • Ion paths in an electric field were determined by streching a rubber sheet between walls whose edge heights were proportional the electric voltage on those edges. The rubber sheet would obey Laplace's eqn just like electric fields do. If you roll balls down the rubber sheet they will follow the similar paths to ions in the electric field. Conducting solutions can also be used to for a similar purpose for systems that only vary in two dimentions, like a cylindrical lens. Here a small electric probe can b
  • XOR gate (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jurily (900488)

    used wave patterns to make a type of logic gate called an "exclusive OR gate", or XOR gate."
    Why the explanation? Are /. readers braindead nowadays? What kind of "news for nerds" needs an explanation of what a XOR is?
  • Slime mold? (Score:2, Funny)

    by ibbie (647332)
    Now I feel bad for eating all of those poor things in Nethack.
  • by Lisandro (799651) on Friday April 11, 2008 @10:54PM (#23043730)
    These are all (interesting) variation of basic logic gates implemented without electronic components. I was expecting something in the vein of the transputer [wikipedia.org]...
  • Oh wait, those aren't weird so much as lame... and probably can't actually be counted as computers, per say.
  • An exclusive-OR gate is not useful by itself, because there are an equal number of ways of getting a one out of it as a zero.

    Any logic function can be built up with just NAND, just NOR, or NOT and either (AND or OR). There's also an odd logic function, BUN (= BUt Not; output is 1 when A=1 and B=0, 0 otherwise) which is sufficient (you can make it into NOT by tying A to logic 1, AND by inverting B or NOR by inverting A). These properties, though, depend on asymmetry in the truth table -- and the EOR fu
  • Protonic processing using doped ice.

    In water ice, it is protons, not electrons, that move under voltage. Use pipes instead of wires, fill them with water and freeze. For gates etc. dope the water to give it differential response to voltage.

    As with some of the others, there's no good reason to do this other than its neatism.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun

Working...