It's easy to draw parallels between computers and the human brain: they both use electrical signals, store large amounts of information and can perform incredibly complex tasks.
There are, of course, some key differences between the two, but now, researchers have created a computer that is even more brain-like than the ones we already use. Their paper published in the journal Science Advances marks the first time that anyone has reported successfully building a prototype of a memcomputer, a type of computer that doesn't run using the standard method that 'Father of Modern Computing' Alan Turing devised nearly a century ago.
Memcomputers are more similar to a human brain in that they incorporate a form of working memory. In your brain, working memory is what allows you to remember a particular sentence long enough to get it down in your notes, for example, even if you may not remember that sentence five minutes later. In a computer, working memory translates to processing numbers and storing the results at the same time instead of separately, which is what current computers do.
The prototype that the researchers built uses what they call memprocessors to store information in this completely new way. Memprocessors have the unique ability to change their own properties, such as electrical resistance, to maximize their efficiency.
Having a solid working memory is quite advantageous for humans, and researchers say that it could lead to more advances in computing as well. In theory, memcomputers could be able to run applications that even the most powerful computers available today cannot run.
Memcomputing still has a long way to go before it might show up in smartphones or other consumer devices. Right now, memcomputers work more like a brain with ADD — they can do what is asked of them and do it well, but they are easily thrown off by noise. However, the prototype does prove that this decades-old concept is actually feasible.