Shoot the Terminator or a Borg, and they repair themselves, and then come back fighting. Imagine if a PC could do the same — survive a hit by a laser blast and then come back processing.

A team at the California Institute of Technology built a computer chip that can take a licking and keep on ticking. It has a set of tiny power amplifiers, an elementary type of circuitry common in everything from your speaker’s amplifier to your phone. The power amplifier uses a set of on-chip sensors that monitor temperature, current, voltage and power. Information from those sensors goes to a custom-made integrated circuit on the same chip. That’s the “brain” of the system. The brain analyzes the amplifier’s performance and checks if it needs adjustment. If there is a problem it can re-route the information to actuators that are working.

They tested their brainy computer chips by hitting them with a laser and burning holes in them. In less than a second the tiny chips developed a work around, essentially programming themselves to function without the damaged parts.

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“You tell the chip the results you want and let it figure out how to produce those results,” said Steven Bowers, a graduate student and lead author on the paper, in a press release.

The chips themselves were advanced models. If the self-healing works there, that means it can be adapted to more conventional chips like the ones in a PC.

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The work was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory. It’s pretty easy to see why the military would want this kind of technology — of course, when the robot rebellion happens and you can’t kill the Roomba, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

The team’s results appear in the March issue of IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques.