The researchers believe that eventually most computers will become, over time, increasingly more reconfigurable. “We see this as a ubiquitous technology, even if it won’t always be visible to the user,” George says. “Inevitably, this is the route most computers will have to take in one form or another.”
The Novo-G computer uses 288 reconfigurable processors, rivaling the speed of the world’s largest supercomputers for some applications, but at vastly less cost, size, power, and cooling, according to the researchers. Conventional supercomputers, for example, which can be the size of a large building, often require millions of watts of electrical power, and produce considerable heat, while Novo-G is about the size of two home refrigerators, and uses less than 12,000 watts, according to the researchers.
Novo-G currently is involved in several projects, using applications in genomic research, cancer diagnosis, investment finance, signal and image processing and plant science. Monsanto, for example, is working with center researchers “to come up with new and better ways to make crops resistant to drought and pests,” George says. “Much of this is done using computational techniques. But the company is finding it increasingly difficult to analyze because the data are so massive and detailed. They can’t process it. They need a computer that can adapt to the unique nature of all this information, which traditional computers can’t do.”
George predicts that reconfigurable computers ultimately will prompt a dramatic shift in personalized medicine, enabling physicians to design custom treatments based on a patient’s individual genetic profile. “These computers will have the ability to customize and thereby rapidly process the unique data for each patient,” George says. “You’ll be able to go to the doctor and have personalized treatment for whatever ailment you have.”
Lam agrees, adding that scientific research also likely will receive a huge boost from the new technology.
“A lot of science depends on computers, and some of it depends on computers doing a lot of things fast,” Lam says. “It’s not too effective if it takes two hours every time you try something. But if you can do an experiment that takes 30 seconds, instead of two hours, you could change the way you do science. I think that’s what’s going to happen. With reconfigurable computers, there could be a fundamental change in the way people do science.”