Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Santa Fe Project, and the University of New Mexico

What happens if Moore’s Law isn’t the only thing that matters? Are Harvard and Princeton architectures the only choices, especially as the world moves increasingly to parallel architectures? Whatever happened to the plethora of alternative architecture that thrived during the 1970’s and 1980’s? If Seymour Cray were alive today, what would he have developed? What is the Linux equivalent for computer architecture?

The “Santa Fe Project” is about challenging everything I learned in undergrad class, and everything that is taught in computer science books. As a matter of fact, there are a fair number of old, rusty, mildew-collecting books at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico that do nothing but talk about computer architectures. But they’re all the same, the only thing that ever changes are the number of registers, the bit width of the registers, and the amount of memory available to you.

There are some people that argue that because every computing machine is Turing Complete, it doesn’t make any sense to build anything else, you can “just emulate it all in software”. But that’s an awfully narrow-minded and usually impractically academic mentality. The problem is that software is intangible, it’s electronic. It’s not physical, so it doesn’t occupy meaningful physical space. It doesn’t interact directly with its environment, it doesn’t change its surroundings, and it doesn’t interact with users physically.

What would a computer look like if it was a complex adaptive system that existed in real, 3 dimensional physical space?

Over the next 2 months, Chris, Mike, Omar, Justin, Matt, and Dave Ackley are going to try to challenge everything we know, by intentionally “undoing” computation. The Santa Fe Project will be as much a mental challenge as it will be about physical hardware design and software design.

And while all of this is happening, Dave Ackley is going to host a course at the University of New Mexico, in the computer science lab. Everything we build and develop, and test, and explore, we will launch immediately to the University of New Mexico and at the Santa Fe Institute. In fact, he’s been working on a syllabus, and we’ll talk all about the research and projects here on the blog.

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