Distributed Analog Supercomputer prototype to be built

Issue date: 23 May 2006

Professor Mills in front of his polymer computer Professor Jonathan Mills of Indiana University (USA), one of the world's leading experts in analog computers, is to work at the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), of the University of the West of England, to develop and build the world's first prototype of a Distributed Analog Supercomputer. The work will be carried out during Professor Mills nine month Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship at UWE.

The University of West England, which is a centre of unconventional computing (a joint venture established at CEMS and the Faculty of Applied Sciences), is hosting Professor Mills' visit.

Professor Jonathan W Mills has investigated the design and application of the extended analog computer, which was first described theoretically by the late Professor Lee Rubel in 1993. Rubel, a mathematician, believed that his theoretical machine was too general to be constructed, perhaps too general even to be considered as a computer. However, using innovative techniques and materials, Professor Mills, his students and staff at Indiana University have built a series of these machines, and developed applications and interfaces to explore this non-digital approach to computing.

Analog computers in the 1950s and 1960s were cumbersome, complex and difficult to use. The new extended analog computers are small, simple and can be applied by reflecting on a problem until a match—an analogy—is found between it and the computer. Configuring these machines is physically simple, rather like drawing a diagram on the back of an envelope or creating a web page, and is far less complex than writing a digital computer program.

These new computers also have the potential to solve trillions of partial differential equations per second, a speed that is orders of magnitude faster than even the most advanced digital supercomputers today. The research funded by the Leverhulme Trust will duplicate prototypes that have been fabricated with plastic and chemical 'wetware,' which are powerful and easily built, although they are much slower than silicon chips.

Professor Mills says, “I find it difficult to believe that the opportunity to be the first at anything would come my way! But it is true: UWE and the Leverhulme Trust have generously given us the chance to build the world's first EAC supercomputer prototype in the UK. This project is considered risky in the USA. It does not currently follow conventional directions in computing. Yet ignoring 'blue sky' research allowed the Russians to put the first satellite in orbit, and let the Japanese implement W Edward Deming's statistical process control in their automotive industry. Our local economies still suffer from the loss of jobs and business. Europe is much more forward-thinking. Collaborating on this advanced research project at UWE is exciting!”

Professor Adamatzky (Unconventional Computing Group, CEMS) says, “We are delighted to be working with Professor Jonathan Mills and excited about working on this new prototype. It links closely to the work we have been doing on 'wet brains' and we will all benefit from working together on this innovative project.”

Professor Mills will join UWE in January 2007 for nine months.


Editors notes:

Visual available on request from the Press Office, caption: Professor Mills in front of his polymer computer.

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