Hardware implementation of autonomous probabilistic computers
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Conventional digital computers are built using stable deterministic units known as "bits". These conventional computers have greatly evolved into sophisticated machines, however there are many classes of problems such as optimization, sampling and machine learning that still cannot be addressed efficiently with conventional computing. Quantum computing, which uses q-bits, that are in a delicate superposition of 0 and 1, is expected to perform some of these tasks efficiently. However, decoherence, requirements for cryogenic operation and limited many-body interactions pose significant challenges to scaled quantum computers. Probabilistic computing is another unconventional computing paradigm which introduces the concept of a probabilistic bit or "p-bit"; a robust classical entity fluctuating between 0 and 1 and can be interconnected electrically. The primary contribution of this thesis is the first experimental proof-of-concept demonstration of p-bits built by slight modifications to the magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM) operating at room temperature. These p-bits are connected to form a clock-less autonomous probabilistic computer. We first set the stage, by demonstrating a high-level emulation of p-bits which establishes important rules of operation for autonomous p-computers. The experimental demonstration is then followed by a low-level emulation of MRAM based p-bits which will allow further study of device characteristics and parameter variations for proper operation of p-computers. We lastly demonstrate an FPGA based scalable synchronous probabilistic computer which uses almost 450 digital p-bits to demonstrate large p-circuits.