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This Minuscule New Form Of Memory Will Revolutionize Electronics—If We're Smart Enough

The memristor is feted to transform electronics—but only now are we starting to understand the damn things.

HP has promised to commercialize the memristor next year and bring it to market, but some of the fundamental truths about this bizarre but incredibly powerful electronics innovation are only coming to light today.

The memristor is a device that was first suggested by Professor Leon Chua in 1971, and it's a strange mind-bending thing: Half transistor and half resistor, the memristor can change its resistance depending on the direction current flows through it and remember its previous resistance level. Far from being an esoteric quirky device, memristors may be able to replace transistors in chip designs—taking up less space. They can also act as non-volatile memory, with switching times that outpace conventional NAND flash memory. Because of their nonlinear behavior, lash enough memristors together and you could get a network that operates on fuzzy logic-style principles, and potentially acts as a form of AI.

Now Chua and Indian researchers have looked into the fundamental physics of memristors and explained their findings in two papers. Memristors, it seems, are actually everywhere already—even in simple electrical systems where an imperfect contact exists. Though no one is likely to use an imperfect connection as a clever computing device, the research breakthrough is likely to lead to many more companies than just HP developing memristor systems. In a few years the tech may be pretty ubiquitous—and that will have some very important upshots for the developer community, not least because of the potential for creating wholly new kinds of computing.

[Image: Flickr user Andrew Cavell]