By definition, a computer is a machine that processes and stores data as ones and zeroes. But the U.S. Department of Defense wants to tear up that definition and start from scratch.
Through its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the DoD is funding a new program called UPSIDE, short for Unconventional Processing of Signals for Intelligent Data Exploitation. Basically, the program will investigate a brand-new way of doing computing without the digital processors that have come to define computing as we know it.
The aim is to build computer chips that are a whole lot more power-efficient than today’s processors — even if they make mistakes every now and then.
The way Darpa sees it, today’s computers — especially those used by mobile spy cameras in drones and helicopters that have to do a lot of image processing — are starting to hit a dead end. The problem isn’t processing. It’s power, says Daniel Hammerstrom, the Darpa program manager behind UPSIDE. And it’s been brewing for more than a decade.