Crash-Free Computer Gets Dubious Reception

Scientists at University College of London (UCL) have allegedly created a self-healing computer that can never crash or freeze.

Called a "systemic computer," the supposedly un-crashable machine was developed through studies of general chaos in nature (swarms of bees, brain neurons) and is reported to be able to recover instantly from any crash by automatically repairing corrupted data.

Among the many reasons computers can sometimes crash, a major issue is their sequential operation. Conventional computers follow through with one instruction at a time, with the entire system being capable of failing if one such instruction should fumble the mechanism.

It's rather like taking out a link from a long chain: the entire chain falls apart.

The systemic computer, however, works differently. With this new machine, instructions are set up to interact randomly rather than sequentially, with several tasks being handled at once.

"It goes against traditional computation as nothing is centralized, everything is now distributed," says Dr. Peter Bentley, a computer scientist at UCL, who built the systemic computer. "It is just like the brain with lots of different neurons all chatting away to each other on random occasions."

The notion that computers already multitask is an incorrect one, Bentley says: "You might have five programmes running on your computer at once but actually the computer is switching its attention between each of those five in a split second. So that's why, if one of them locks up or freezes, your whole computer can crash because it's not actually doing things in parallel."

Although Bentley believes the systemic computer system will not totally replace conventional processors, he does anticipate the system to work "hand in hand with traditional computers."

Practical applications for the systemic computer range from those involving drones (which would be able to recover quickly from damage), to the realm of physicians and other military applications, reports The Washington Post.

The Post also suggests that, with the systemic computer, a more realistic model of the human brain might be achievable. But not everyone believes the systemic computer — or any system, for that matter — could ever be totally crash-free.

Referring to both the Washington Post article and its New Scientist predecessor as "funny" enough to make him "laugh out loud," PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak compares the idea of a crash-proof computer to the myth of perpetual motion.

"There is always an idea that sounds good on paper, but never works in practice," says Dvorak.

Noting previous attempts at crash-proof computers, Dvorak reminds us of Steve Ballmer's presenting "un-crashable" OS/2 machines with a floppy disk designed specifically to crash computers at a Microsoft event a few years ago.

"You'd think The Washington Post, at least, would have some standards regarding this," says Dvorak. "I guess not. Instead, the public gets fed this rubbish."

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