Are memristors the "potential god particle" of electronics, as claimed by Popular Science
? Mmm, probably not. If you don't believe me, you can always ask Elvis who, I'm told, was spotted at your local convenience store the other day.
Are they the mysterious missing link? The fourth fundamental element type as claimed by IEEE and others? That's a bit of a stretch as well (imo). Of course, the guy who actually came up with them at HP may not agree with me on this one
. To wit:
My POV? It is a newly discovered useful application of a fundamental physical effect, but it is not a new function. People have found ways to obtain very similar functionality without the need of the fundamental physics underlying the discovered nano-scale effect. For example, flash memory is a made-to-order application, which will likely be the first to benefit from adoption of memristors. For flash-memory, memristors are a new and improved way to do something that it (flash memory) essentially already does.
Organizationally and practically speaking, they are not so much a fourth passive element-type, but a new characteristic (non-volatile memory
) over-laying the existing three element-types (see first resource
These memristors are based on fundamental solid-state physics though, and those underlying fundamentals will come in very handy in many fields of electronics—greatly improved flash memory being only the most obvious example. They are likely to enable many other organizational and functional technologies that would not have been practical, or even considered, in the absence of HP memristors.
In this sense, they will indeed cause a lot of re-thinking of once-settled design and development methods. This should include, for example, analog neural network circuits, such as analog connection-strength ("weight") memory. It is significant to note that the memresistive effect has sometimes been observed as a problem for those working on very small structures as far back as the 1960s.
My personal reluctance to put it in the category of "the fourth passive electronic element-type" should not be misconstrued as characterizing it as something less than that. On the contrary, from an organizational reference-point, the fundamental effect used to construct the new element-types may be at least one organizational level above
what is considered when thinking merely of passive electronic element functions. Those elements, like everything, are based on physical phenomena but they are just electronic function-elements.
The evidence for the concept of memory at this level of reality is seen everywhere in the macro-observable universe. In biology, for example, molecular-level mechanisms of memory seem to be absolutely essential. Because it exists at a higher-order organizational level, this "fundamental-memory-phenomenon" is important to many fields. Electronics is merely one of them.
Is it a dichotomy, or just an anti-razor? It is probably just the programmer in me that is a bit hyper-vigilant (okay, OCD) about this stuff. Let us be careful about assigning too much significance at a specific
contextual level, lest we end up not assigning enough significance to a higher-order context, where it may actually belong**.
** As humans it is our natural tendency to make perceived facts about reality convincingly fit our theories about it at all cost.