Chips 2
Image from Anders Sandberg

"Computronium" can be defined as any form of matter which supports computation, especially artificial substances suitable for high efficiency computation. Biological neural matter is also a form of computronium; baseline humans carry about 1.5 kilos of computronium in their heads as brain tissue.

It is a catchall term for a wide range of substances, the most advanced of which consist of very densely packed computational elements and used by higher intelligences for its speed and efficiency. Using it reduces signal times because of the short distance between each element and the fact that the huge number of processing units per unit volume (from a baseline's macroscale point of view, it would appear to be a continuous substance, much like human brain matter) means only a small volume of it is necessary to do a certain amount of work.

Although similar in basis, computronium varies widely according to design, function, characteristics, manufacturer, and from job to job. e.g. something that has large data access requirements (object recognition) have relatively little in common with computronium designed for something with massive computational needs (e.g. cryptography) etc. Every task requires different resources to complete, and the computronium would be optimized for performing a given type of work. Higher-order systems and AIs usually have many subsystems, each containing different types of computer matter. Different empires, polities, and archai also may have a preferred type. Use of reversible computing and reversible logic gates is very common, enabling Landauer's limit to be bypassed and thereby achieving increases in energy efficiency and reductions of waste heat of many orders of magnitude compared to the earliest computing architectures.

Biological computronium is often used by the Zoeific Biopolity; the most familiar form of biological computronium is the animal brain, particularly the naturally evolved human brain. The Biopolity and a number of other biotech-based polities use large or very large genetically engineered brain tissue processors, taking advantage of the naturally good processing power afforded by brain tissue. DNA and other complex molecules can be used in various forms of organic computronium systems.

Many other polities use the efficient and versatile Ultimate Chip system, which allows processing many orders of magnitude smaller than biotech processors.

Like all computer equipment, there are many different grades and implementations, ranging over all levels of technology, from regular nanoscale down to the smallest limits of matter manipulation. Smaller scales increase heat dissipation problems, of course, but also means the means of dealing with them is more advanced -- regular hi-tech computronium can be cooled by passive radiative means, for instance, whereas the densest forms of godtech computronium requires more advanced refrigeration such as neutrino cooling.
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Development Notes
Text by Xaonon (original term by Eugene Leitl) with additions by Steve Bowers
Image by Anders Sandberg
Initially published on 24 September 2001.

Reversible computing added 18 December 2022