A Rice University computer science professor is touting a new computer chip based on a controversial idea – but one that could revolutionize the future of computing, reports the Houston Chronicle. Engineers have long lived by a simple, seemingly obvious rule when designing new computers: The machines have to deliver correct answers. If asked to compute 2+2, for example, a computer must answer 4. But what if computers didn’t always have to answer correctly? Nearly a decade ago, Krishna Palem posed this heretical question. Today, it has led to a movement dubbed "probabilistic computing." And on Feb. 8, Palem–speaking at a computer science meeting in San Francisco–announced results of the first real-world test of his probabilistic computer chip: The chip, which thrives on random errors, ran seven times faster than today’s best technology while using just 1⁄30th the electricity. "The results were far greater than we expected," said Palem, who envisions his chips migrating to mobile devices in less than a decade. Results in the lab often don’t translate into real-world applications. But Palem believes his most recent results will go a long way toward muting skepticism about probabilistic computing, which at one time was nearly universal among computer scientists. Much as the brain automatically fills in missing words in incomplete sentences, Palem said, the brain can compensate for a few errant pixels in a mobile phone’s video screen. "In effect," he said, "we are putting a little more burden on the CPU in our heads and a little less burden on the CPU in our pockets." While Palem’s technology might not have a future in calculating missions to Mars, it probably has one in applications such as streaming music and video on mobile devices…

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