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  • Writer's pictureSofia Ng

Is the future thermodynamic?

Today, we're diving into something that sounds like it's straight out of a sci-fi novel but is actually happening right here, right now: the birth of the thermodynamic computer. Imagine a world where the very thing that used to mess up our tech - random thermal "noise" - becomes the hero in our story, powering calculations that could transform technology as we know it.

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An illustrative depiction of a thermodynamic computer circuit board, blending technology with nature, showcasing interconnected circuits and components using thermal noise for calculations.


In an era where technological advancements emerge at lightning speed, a novel concept is making waves: the thermodynamic computer. This pioneering technology transforms the very essence of chaos, thermal "noise," from a hindrance into a powerful tool for computing.

The Thermodynamic Computer: Making Lemonade from Lemons

At the heart of this innovation is a philosophy as old as time: making the best out of a difficult situation. Patrick Coles and his team at Normal Computing have taken the random thermal noise, a natural phenomenon and a known source of errors in traditional computing, and turned it into the cornerstone of their computational method. Coles puts it succinctly, "We are making lemonade out of lemons, using the fact that physical systems are naturally noisy." This approach not only embraces the inherent chaos in physical systems but also leverages it to drive the computer's calculations.

The Stochastic Processing Unit (SPU): A Technical Masterpiece

The prototype, dubbed the Stochastic Processing Unit (SPU), is a marvel of engineering. Comprising eight interconnected circuits on a standard circuit board, these circuits operate akin to electric pendulums, swinging with the rhythm of electrical currents to perform complex calculations. This setup is a vivid embodiment of the computer's unique methodology, using the noise within electrical currents as a computational resource.

Natural Inputs: Computing in Harmony with the World

Unlike traditional computers that rely on digital inputs, the thermodynamic computer draws its inputs directly from the physical environment. This means it can start a computation based on the natural warming of a component, utilizing the ensuing temperature changes as part of its calculation process. This method not only underscores the computer's energy efficiency but also its symbiotic relationship with the natural world.

A Leap Forward for AI and Energy Efficiency

The implications of the thermodynamic computer extend far beyond its innovative approach to computing. Its ability to perform challenging calculations, such as matrix inversions and operations crucial for generative AI algorithms, marks a significant step forward in the field of AI. Faris Sbahi from Normal Computing highlights its potential in "uncertainty quantification," which could lead to AI systems that understand their own limitations. Todd Hylton from the University of California, San Diego, praises the natural efficiency of thermodynamic computing, emphasizing its promise for creating more capable and energy-efficient AI systems.

The Bright Future of Thermodynamic Computing

While the thermodynamic computer remains a prototype, its future is incredibly bright. The team at Normal Computing is confident in their ability to scale and enhance the technology within the next five years. This optimism is shared by experts like Artemy Kolchinsky, who recognizes the vast potential of thermodynamic computing in fields beyond AI, given its fundamental advantage in energy efficiency and computational power.

Conclusion: Embracing Chaos for the Next Computing Era

The development of the thermodynamic computer represents a paradigm shift in how we approach technology. By harnessing the inherent noise of the physical world, this novel approach promises a future where computing is not only more efficient and powerful but also in closer harmony with the natural processes that surround us. The journey into this new era of computing is just beginning, and the possibilities are as vast as they are exciting.


  1. What is thermal noise in computing?

  • Thermal noise refers to random fluctuations in electrical signals due to the natural movement of particles, which can introduce errors in traditional computing systems.

  1. How does the thermodynamic computer differ from traditional computers?

  • Unlike conventional computers that rely on digital inputs and struggle with thermal noise, the thermodynamic computer uses this noise as a computational resource, drawing inputs directly from physical changes in its environment.

  1. What potential does thermodynamic computing hold for AI?

  • It offers a groundbreaking approach for running energy-efficient AI programs, capable of performing complex tasks like uncertainty quantification, which could lead to more intelligent and self-aware AI systems.

  1. Why is the thermodynamic computer considered more energy efficient?

  • By leveraging natural processes and thermal fluctuations for computations, it avoids the energy-intensive methods traditional computers use to control and change states, promising a more sustainable technology future.

  1. What's next for thermodynamic computing?

  • The team behind this innovation is working on scaling and improving the technology, aiming to broaden its applications beyond AI and demonstrate its full potential within the next five years.

Embrace the chaos! The future of computing, powered by the very "noise" we once sought to eliminate, is not just on the horizon—it's here.

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