What if we had computer bits that allowed more than two values?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

The Red-Black tree is interesting because it can store the color using only bit, and one bit can have one of two values, often represented as either a 0 or a 1. That is the nature of our silicon hardware. But if we had hardware where the basic charge could be one of several values, then it would possible to do multi colored trees. If we had hardware that could hold one of 20 values, it would be possible to have trees that had the same number of colors as there are words in the DNA language. That would radically speed up our ability to calculate how protein folds.

The era of specialized computers died out in the 1970s and 1980s. General purpose computing devices, powered by big CPUs from Intel or AMD, now dominate the scene, thanks to economies of scale. All the same, I could imagine a future where niche markets open up for dedicated hardware.

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