BY Kit Eaton @ Fast Company

While there’s a lot of work to push nanotechnology as the future of computer chips, good old-fashioned semiconductors still have a lot of life in them yet: and they’ve recently been given a boost with a radical new type of circuit element that incorporates both semiconductor and nanotechnology.

Its called the memristor, and if you haven’t heard of it that’s not much of surprise–they were only manufactured for the first time last year. Memristors are tiny electronic devices that change their electrical resistance proportionally to the current running through them–in contrast transistors “turn on” current when a small input voltage is applied. Unlike transistors, memristors don’t forget their state when they’re turned off, making them useful as non-volatile memory for example.

Now a team from Hewlett-Packard labs in Palo-Alto has demonstrated a hybrid transistor-memristor circuit for the first time, using a nanowire grid and titanium dioxide as a semiconductor. The resulting device had memristors at the nanowire junctions and was surrounded by transistors.

Why should you get excited about this? For one reason–a transistor/memristor paired assembly can be programmed to either behave like a traditional logic circuit, route signals across it or behave as a memory storage unit. And these are all tasks that require specially-engineered circuitry in existing chips. In other words, a memristor-chip could pack in much more processing power in the same area–and that’s the trend that our increasingly-powerful chips have been following for decades.

Yet more interestingly, since the memristor “remembers” what state its in, by doing a calculation with a group of the circuits and feeding back the output of a calculation to the same memristors, the device could effectively “self-program.” As HP spokesman Tim Williams puts it: “self-programming is a form of learning. Thus, circuits with memristors may have the capacity to learn how to perform a task, rather than have to be programmed to do it.”

And that’s one long-predicted goal of computing technology that may even enable synaptic-like responses. Your computer in ten years time may do some of your thinking for you.


BY Noah Robischon @ Fast Company

Windows Azure and “Red Dog” Cloud Computing Project One over-arching theme that will underly many of the projects on display today is the upcoming Windows Azure cloud-computing push. This is Microsoft’s attempt to move its operating off the desktop and into the cloud. Although it was officially unveiled several months ago, Microsoft is only now getting specific about the kinds of tools it will deliver in Azure.

SecondLight Surface Computing UI Based on the description I’m reading, it sounds like Microsoft is ready to move its touch-screen UI off of the tabletop and into the “mid-air above the display” where it will recognize Minority Report-style gestural navigation.

Color-Structured Image Search color pattern image search has been around since at least 2005. Microsoft seems to have made some advances here, allowing for more consistency, speed and a semantic structure that could be applied to other search types.

Social Desktop, Social E-Mail, and Location-Based Social Networking Never one to let another software company own a lucrative market (ahem, Facebook), Microsoft has several projects on tap that will utilize your social networks in novel ways. Among them: e-mail integrated social networking tools and GeoLife 2.0, which sounds a lot like Google Latitude.

Opinion Search Several companies are moving into search engine algorithms that incorporate opinion or emotion data into the results. Microsoft’s Opinion Search will also filter results based on positive or negative polarity–again, not entirely new, but fascinating nevertheless.

Image-Centric and User-Interactions Advertising Platform Perhaps the first project on this list that could lead to real revenue, these two projects aim to replace today’s keyword-driven ad model with ones based on the content of recently searched images and a more integrated presentation of the resulting ads.

Tool Kit for Visualizing Large-Scale Data Silverlight and Ajax controls to help navigate large volumes of structured data from multiple source may not sound sexy. But if done well, it’s groundbreaking.

Augmented Reality 2009 buzzword alert! I’m not sure why everyone is tossing this old concept around so much lately, but Microsoft has at least two projects here that blend reality with computer interfaces. One is centered on 3D portable and virtual sticky notes.

Do these projects represent true innovation, or just more me-too computing? I aim to find out. Drop a note into the comments here if you’d like me to focus on anything in particular from the list above, or that you’ve heard about elsewhere.