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How Might the Next Machine-Class be Built?

Excerpts (in note form) from a book in preparation on the prospects for someone soon inventing the next machine-class (MC), to spark the next industrial revolution (the next member of the sequence consisting of the wheel, steam-engine and computer, which are the generic classes of machine that sparked previous industrial revolutions).

The Steam Locomotive Turing Machine

Consider a full sized locomotive that can steam east-west along the line, from Paddington to Temple Meads, but with, on board, the state logic of a pneumatic Turing machine (Figures 1 and 2). The railway sleepers could form the Turing tape, with mechanical flip-flops mounted across each one, of the inverted pendulum type (Figure 3). The locomotive would have valves that open and close, on brushing by the flip-flops on the current sleeper, with steam actuators to change their settings when required.

Although the locomotive is capable of travelling full steam, from Paddington to Temple Meads, it spends its working life, now, edging up and down a few kilometres of its track. Although not making progress, by the normal measure of steam locomotive performance, it would be making computational progress on the data that the programmer had stored in the flip-flops.

Enhancement Mode Pneumatic Transistor

Figure 1. Enhancement Mode Pneumatic Transistor

Depletion Mode Pneumatic Transistor

Figure 2. Depletion Mode Pneumatic Transistor

Likewise, the next MC modelled as a computer would be constrained from making forward progress in executing its program. The computer would be made to run backwards in some seemingly erratic, but in actual fact well controlled, way. A small, not normally expected, extra input would be overriding the normal progress of the computer, like the seemingly minor addition of flip-flops on the railway sleepers overriding the locomotive's normal behaviour.

Although the locomotive is constrained from travelling full steam, from Paddington to Temple Meads, its peak speed is still important, and determines the computing speed of the Turing machine. Likewise, a one Mips computer would do one million parts of next MC work per second, although no longer executing consistently towards completing the given computation.

But backtracking is not a step. It is still a mechanism for making forward progress in the overall computation. More appropriate would be the action of non-monotonic learning, adapting to previously mis-perceived input, and previously learned, unreliable, faulty results.

Inverted Pendulum Flip-Flop

Figure 3. Inverted Pendulum Flip-Flop

Two models of computer built from pneumatic components

In a digital computer, gas (electron or molecular) travels from the distant pressure generator, through the supply pipe, to power switches (depletion or enhancement mode) (Figures 1 and 2) (the pressure of the fluid in one pipe controlling the flow in a wider one) and returns to "air" by the exhaust pipe.

For the computer, thus, we have: Model-One, a pneumatic transistor implementation of a circuit schematic, with thousands of pneumatic transistors working in parallel; Model-Two, a locomotive reading the microcode up and down the Turing track, acting as the read/write head of a UTM.

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