Researchers Develop Reconfigurable ‘Chaos Theory’ Circuits To Take Processors Beyond Moore’s Law

Moore's Law, as revised in 1975, states the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit will double around every two years. The observation is named after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, and it's driven processor design for several decades. But what happens when Moore's Law is no longer feasible? Researchers from North Carolina State University believe the solution lies in reconfigurable chaos-based microchips.

The smartypants researchers at NC State have gone and developed new, nonlinear, chaos-based integrated circuits that enable computer processors to perform multiple functions while also using fewer transistors. They can be built with off-the-shelf fabrication processes and, if adopted by chip makers at large, could lead to unique computer architectures capable of doing more with fewer transistors and circuits. It's an alternative path to continuing to shrink transistors, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do.

Reconfigurable Chaotic Integrated Circuit
Image Source: NC State University (Behnam Kia)

"We're reaching the limits of physics in terms of transistor size, so we need a new way to enhance the performance of microprocessors," says Behnam Kia, senior research scholar in physics at NC State. "We propose utilizing chaos theory— the system's own nonlinearity—to enable transistor circuits to be programmed to perform different tasks. A very simple nonlinear transistor circuit contains very rich patterns. Different patterns that represent different functions coexist within the nonlinear dynamics of the system, and they are selectable. We utilize these dynamics-level behaviors to perform different processing tasks using the same circuit. As a result we can get more out of less."

As it stands, today's transistor-based circuits each perform a single task. CPUs then route each instruction and its operands to where it needs to go for the operation to be carried out. It's a wasteful approach, according to Kia, who points out that all the circuitry on a processor gets utilized all of the time. In contrast, the design that Kia and his team came up can morph at a rapid rate and be reconfigured to perform whatever digital function is desired during each clock cycle.

"The heart of the design is an analog nonlinear circuit, but the interface is fully digital, enabling the circuit to operate as a fully morphable digital circuit that can be easily connected to the other digital systems," Kia explains.

As a bonus, the design is compatible with existing technology—it doesn't require a new fabrication process or CAD tools. That means the cost of manufacturing can be kept in check, which in turn could help with commercial adoption.