Technology for a Better World: A Q&A with Futurist Dr. James Canton on the Potential and Power of Memory-Driven Computing


Renowned global futurist explains what makes this paradigm shift necessary

In October, Hewlett Packard Labs successfully tested a proof-of-concept prototype of the first Memory-Driven Computing architecture – a milestone in The Machine research program aimed at reinventing computing for the future. We asked industry observers to comment on what this development means and what's next.

Internationally recognized futurist Dr. James Canton, author of several books including Future Smart, weighs in on these questions and explains why the architectural elements of Memory-Driven Computing represent a paradigm shift that comes at a crucial time.


Q: What are your first impressions after having seen a proof of concept from The Machine research project?

A: To me it looks like a breakthrough for accelerating innovation. I'm excited because I think it's a big vision that comes at a critical point in which we need to reinvent computing.


Q: Why are we at this stage in the history of computing? Whats changed?

A: We're being held back by Moore's Law, the rule that says the power of microprocessors doubles every two years. Our need for data processing is growing faster than that, and yet we still live in the world of printed electronics and microchips that are based on the same basic silicon model we've been using for decades. Meanwhile, experiments with quantum computers have remained in the early stages. Memory-Driven Computing is the first real, testable paradigm that seems to offer a quantifiably better way.


Q: From your perspective, what makes Memory-Driven Computing different?

A: Memory-Driven Computing is much broader and more agile than something that is contained in one type of computational device. We're talking about a new architecture that applies to a range of technologies from smart phones to data center technology and has a dynamic combination of memory, photonics and other new innovations. At that point, you're talking about what I would call the new physics of computing in which this combination of memory and fabric allows us to scale the same architecture from the infinitesimal to the exascale, which is a massive shift in terms of ability to absorb and process information.


Q: Talk about the implications. What could you do if you had access to a Memory-Driven Computing system?

A: We've entered the age of deep learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.), but if I were building athinking machine, I'd do it with the Memory-Driven Computing model. The value of deep learning and A.I. is magnified when you have velocity and, with a system built on this architecture, I think the sky is the limit as far as faster processing at scale.


Q: Can you be more specific? What are some real use cases where having access to Memory-Driven Computing would make a difference?

A: There are lots of examples. In financial markets, big machines are used to conduct sophisticated Monte Carlo analyses and other trading desk scenario-planning. In healthcare, we can use mass volumes of data to improve diagnosis for every patient that walks into a doctor's office.

Yet those are the easy problems. The real promise of Memory-Driven Computing is to solve intractable, global equations. Like how we serve the 2 billion people who are either starving or suffering from malnutrition – even as we waste about 50 percent of the food made available to the world. The global food supply chain problem is remarkably complex and layered and requires entirely new computing paradigms to solve; something on the order of Memory-Driven Computing.


Q: That's an impressive idea. Do you think we'll get to that point?

A: I do. The Machine project and Memory-Driven Computing have altered the physics of computing, and in the process given us a toolset to change the world for the better.



Dr. James Canton Ph.D is a renowned global futurist, social scientist, author and visionary business advisor. As a former Apple Computer executive and high tech entrepreneur, he has been insightfully forecasting the key trends and technologies that have shaped our world. The Economist recognizes him as one of the leading global futurists. He has advised three White House Administrations and over 100 companies.

Dr. Canton is CEO and Chairman of the Institute for Global Futures, a leading think tank he founded in 1990 that advises business, including several within in the technology industry, and government. Dr. Canton is the author of The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World in the 21st Century, Dutton 2006, and Technofutures: How Leading-Edge Innovations Will Transform Business in the 21st Century.