An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Memory of The Future

Posted by xbanguyen on November 8, 2009

If you have a choice between experiencing a perfect moment and having an everlasting memory of such moment but never actually experiencing it, which one would you choose? There was a time when I would choose the former, like Hans Christian Andersen’s little match girl, for a brief moment of warmth before the eternal oblivion. Now it is the latter, perhaps because of a desire to relive certain moments that become real again upon recollection. Moreover, the selective recollection can be done at will.

In my line of work, memory is actually tangible, semiconductor memory, that is.  From the early days of Texas Instruments’s series 51 that offered a few hundred bits of memory to the multi gigabit devices of today, the amount of memory that can be stored in a small space is amazing, if you would just let yourself to be amazed. To put things in perspectives, the size of all six volumes of Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is 200 mega bytes, a mere fraction of what can be stored in a 16 giga bytes NAND flash device whose die size is 20 mm X 13 mm.  Conventional non volatile memory is built with transistors.  In the not too-far-off future, the fourth fundamental element, the memristor, can be used in building persistent memory devices with higher density and consume less power.  Unlike the resistor, the memristor retains its last value when there is no current flow through it.  It too has memory.

Of course it is not always good to be able to retain so much memory.  Not because of nothing that Dali painted the persistence of memory so eloquently and eerily.  Sometimes it is a blessing to forget.  To use the words of Emily Dickinson:

To flee from memory
Had we the Wings
Many would fly
Inured to slower things
Birds with surprise
Would scan the cowering Van
Of men escaping
From the mind of man

Emily Dickinson

It takes a copious amount of self-delusion to filter out the unwanted memory and to add beauty to the wanted. Is it total honesty? No, but the dappled shade added later to block out the falling branch provides a needed contrast to make the leafy lane appear a lot greener, a lot more pleasant to revisit this November evening.  What about “To thine own self be true”?  Such hard choices.

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