Inspired by the human brain, UC San Diego scientists have constructed a new kind of computer that stores information and processes it in the same place. This prototype “memcomputer” solves a problem involving a large dataset more quickly than conventional computers, while using far less energy, the scientists say in a study.

The memcomputer prototype is a specialized proof of concept, but can be improved into a general-purpose computer, say researchers led by Massimiliano Di Ventra, a UCSD professor of physics. Such memcomputers could equal or surpass the potential of quantum computers, they say, but because they don’t rely on exotic quantum effects are far more easily constructed.

Besides solving extremely complex problems involving huge amounts of data, memcomputers can potentially teach us more about how the brain operates, Di Ventra said. While the brain is often compared to a computer, the two are organized and operate much differently.

The study was published Friday in the journal Science Advances. Di Ventra was senior author; first author was Fabio Lorenzo Traversa, also of UCSD.