Blue Screen of Death: UK Researchers Reveal Crash-Proof Computer Tactic

By Alexandra Burlacu email: | Feb 17, 2013 10:55 AM EST

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UK researchers have revealed a revolutionary computer that mimics the apparent chaos of nature to reprogram itself and instantly recover from crashes by repairing corrupted data.

This could make infamous "Blue Screen of Death" a thing of the past, bringing order out of chaos. Crashes are as old as computers, but a computer that is able to repair itself would revolutionize everything.

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Dubbed a "systemic" computer, the self-repairing machine is currently operating at University College London (UCL), and aims to keep mission-critical systems working. According to UCL researchers, the systemic computer taps into the chaos found in nature to enable a machine to heal itself.

One of the main causes of computer crashes is the way computers process the instructions in the programs they run, explained the researchers. They process everything sequentially, one step at a time. If that sequence faces a disturbance, the computer loses track and crashes, but that's not how nature works.

"Everyday computers are ill suited to modeling natural processes such as how neurons work or how bees swarm. This is because they plod along sequentially, executing one instruction at a time," explains UCL computer scientist Peter Bentley, as cited by the New Scientist. "Nature isn't like that. Its processes are distributed, decentralized and probabilistic. And they are fault tolerant, able to heal themselves. A computer should be able to do that."

Computing is not a stranger to fault tolerance, as servers have been simulating the activity of neurons in the human brain for years. The new systemic computer, however, may be a major step forward.

The potential is huge, but the crash-proof computer UK researchers are developing will not be something regular computer users will see anytime soon, if ever. The mere assessment of the practical applications of the research suggests that the systemic computer has higher goals in mind.

Keeping mission-critical systems working could even allow drones to reprogram themselves to deal with combat damage, for instance, or help create more realistic models of the human brain.

The systemic computer also has a crucial advantage: it contains multiple copies of its instructions distributed across its many systems. This way, if one system is corrupted, the computer can access another clean copy and repair its own code. Unlike standard operating systems that crash when they can't access a bit of memory, each individual system in the systemic computer carries its own memory, which means the machine can carry on.

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