Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have unveiled a computer that is “mathematically guaranteed” not to lose data in a crash.
Whilst many media sources have been quick to proclaim the computer as being “unable to crash”, this isn’t strictly the case. Instead, it’s unlikely to crash, but in the case that it does, no data whatsoever will be lost.
The team of researchers claim they have proved the viability of an entirely new type of file system that is unable to accidentally lose information. This is achieved through a process known as ‘formal verification’, which sees developers outline the program’s limits of operation, meaning the program is unable to break those pre-determined boundaries.
This is the first time that the idea of such a machine has become a reality, after numerous reports claimed it was possible on paper.
The process of moving from theory to reality was far from simple, however, thanks in no small part to the many ways in which a computer can crash. Commenting, co-author of the accompanying paper Nickolai Zeldovich told wired.co.uk: “Making sure that the file system can recover from a crash at any point is tricky because there are so many different places that you could crash.
“You literally have to consider every instruction or every disk operation and think, ‘Well, what if I crash now? What now? What now?’ And so empirically, people have found lots of bugs in file systems that have to do with crash recovery, and they keep finding them.”
One minor issue with the new computer, however, is its relatively slow speeds. This is expected to only be a short term problem, though, as this device will act more as a base from which future loss-preventing computers can be built to better specifications.
Further, analysts have said they expect this new development to have a positive impact elsewhere. The lead manager for security research at Google, Ulfar Erlingsson, noted that the MIT computer isn’t as esoteric or tailored to very specific problems as some others that have come before. “This is stuff that’s going to get built on and applied in many different domains,” he said. “That’s what’s so exciting.”