# Ternary computer

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A **ternary computer** (also called **trinary computer**) is a computer that uses ternary logic (three possible values) instead of the more popular binary system ("Base 2") in its calculations.

## Types of states[edit]

Ternary computing deals with three discrete states, but the ternary digits themselves can be defined in different ways:^{[1]}

- Unbalanced Ternary – {0,1,2}
- Fractional Unbalanced Ternary – {0,1/2,1}
- Balanced Ternary – {−1,0,1}
- Unknown-State Logic – {F,?,T}
- Ternary Coded Binary – {T,F,T}

## History[edit]

One early calculating machine, built entirely from wood by Thomas Fowler in 1840, operated in balanced ternary.^{[2]}^{[3]} The first modern, electronic ternary computer, Setun, was built in 1958 in the Soviet Union at the Moscow State University by Nikolay Brusentsov,^{[4]}^{[5]} and it had notable advantages over the binary computers that eventually replaced it, such as lower electricity consumption and lower production cost.^{[4]} In 1970 Brusentsov built an enhanced version of the computer, which he called Setun-70.^{[4]} In the United States, the ternary computing emulator Ternac working on a binary machine was developed in 1973.^{[6]}^{:22}

The ternary computer QTC-1 was developed in Canada.^{[7]}

## Balanced ternary[edit]

Ternary computing is commonly implemented in terms of balanced ternary, which uses the three digits −1, 0, and +1. The negative value of any balanced ternary digit can be obtained by replacing every + with a − and vice versa. It is easy to subtract a number by inverting the + and − digits and then using normal addition. Balanced ternary can express negative values as easily as positive ones, without the need for a leading negative sign as with unbalanced numbers. These advantages make some calculations more efficient in ternary than binary.^{[8]} Considering that digit signs are mandatory, and nonzero digits are magnitude 1 only, notation that drops the '1's and use only zero and the + − signs is more concise than if 1's are included.

I often reflect that had the Ternary instead of the denary Notation been adopted in the Infancy of Society, machines something like the present would long ere this have been common, as the transition from mental to mechanical calculation would have been so very obvious and simple.

— Thomas Fowler,^{[3]}

## Unbalanced ternary[edit]

Ternary computing implemented in terms of unbalanced ternary, which uses the three digits 0, 1, 2. The original 0 and 1 are explained as an ordinary Binary computer, but instead uses 2 as leakage current.^{[clarification needed]}

The world's first unbalanced ternary semiconductor design on a large wafer was implemented by the research team led by Kim Kyung-rok at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, which will help development of low power and high computing microchips in the future. This research theme was selected as one of the future projects funded by Samsung in 2017, published on July 15, 2019.^{[9]}

## Potential future applications[edit]

With the advent of mass-produced binary components for computers, ternary computers have diminished in significance. However, Donald Knuth argues that they will be brought back into development in the future to take advantage of ternary logic's elegance and efficiency.^{[8]} One possible way this could happen is by combining an optical computer with the ternary logic system.^{[10]} A ternary computer using fiber optics could use dark as 0 and two orthogonal polarizations of light as 1 and −1. IBM also reports infrequently on ternary computing topics (in its papers), but it is not actively engaged in it.^{[citation needed]}

The Josephson junction has been proposed as a balanced ternary memory cell, using circulating superconducting currents, either clockwise, counterclockwise, or off. "The advantages of the proposed memory circuit are capability of high speed computation, low power consumption and very simple construction with fewer elements due to the ternary operation."^{[11]}

In 2009, a quantum computer was proposed which uses a quantum ternary state, a qutrit, rather than the typical qubit.^{[citation needed]}

## Ternary computers in popular culture[edit]

In Robert A. Heinlein's novel *Time Enough for Love*, the sapient computers of Secundus, the planet on which part of the framing story is set, including Minerva, use an unbalanced ternary system. Minerva, in reporting a calculation result, says "three hundred forty one thousand six hundred forty... the original ternary readout is unit pair pair comma unit nil nil comma unit pair pair comma unit nil nil point nil".^{[12]}

Virtual Adepts in the roleplaying game *Mage: The Ascension* use ternary computers.

In Howard Tayler's webcomic *Schlock Mercenary*, every modern computer is a ternary computer. AIs use the extra digit as "maybe" in boolean (true/false) operations, thus having a much more intimate understanding of fuzzy logic than is possible with binary computers.

The Conjoiners, in Alastair Reynolds' *Revelation Space* series, use ternary logic to program their computers and nanotechnology devices.

In Stanisław Lem's short story "The Hunt", the robot hunted by the protagonist is called Setaur, Self-programming Electronic Ternary Automaton Racemic.

## Further reading[edit]

- Hunger, Francis (2007).
*Eine Recherche über den sowjetischen Ternarcomputer*[*SETUN. An Inquiry into the Soviet Ternary Computer*]. Institut für Buchkunst Leipzig. ISBN 978-3-932865-48-0.

## See also[edit]

- Radix economy
- Ternary numeral system
- Skew binary number system
- Ternary signal
- Flip-flap-flop
- Ternary SRAM

## References[edit]

**^**Connelly, Jeff (2008). "Ternary Computing Testbed 3-Trit Computer Architecture" (PDF). California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo.**^**McKay, John; Vass, Pamela. "Thomas Fowler". Archived from the original on 31 May 2007.- ^
^{a}^{b}Glusker, Mark; Hogan, David M.; Vass, Pamela (July–September 2005). "The Ternary Calculating Machine of Thomas Fowler".*IEEE Annals of the History of Computing*.**27**(3): 4–22. doi:10.1109/mahc.2005.49. - ^
^{a}^{b}^{c}Nitusov, Alexander. "Nikolay Petrovich Brusentsov".*Russian Virtual Computer Museum: Hall of Fame*. Retrieved 25 January 2010. **^**Trogemann, Georg; Nitussov, Alexander Y.; Ernst, Wolfgang (2001).*Computing in Russia: the history of computer devices and information technology revealed*. Vieweg+Teubner Verlag. pp. 19, 55, 57, 91, 104–107. ISBN 978-3-528-05757-2..**^**Epstein, George; Frieder, Gideon; Rine, David C. (1974). "The development of multiple-valued logic as related to computer science".*Computer*. IEEE.**7**(9): 20–32. doi:10.1109/MC.1974.6323304. eISSN 1558-0814. ISSN 0018-9162.**^**Cho, Y. H.; Mouftah, H. T. (1988).*A CMOS ternary ROM chip*(PDF).*Proceedings. The Eighteenth International Symposium on Multiple-Valued Logic*. IEEE. doi:10.1109/ISMVL.1988.5195.- ^
^{a}^{b}Knuth, Donald (1980).*The Art of Computer Programming*. Volume 2: Seminumerical Algorithms (2nd ed.). Addison-Wesley. p. 190–192. ISBN 0-201-03822-6.. **^**"S. Korean researchers develop world's first ternary semiconductor tech".*Maeil Business Newspaper*. 17 July 2019.**^**Jin Yi; He Huacan; Lü Yangtian (2005). "Ternary Optical Computer Architecture".*Physica Scripta*.**T118**: 98. doi:10.1238/Physica.Topical.118a00098.**^**Morisue, M.; Endo, J.; Morooka, T.; Shimizu, N.; Sakamoto, M. (1998). "A Josephson ternary memory circuit".*Proceedings. 1998 28th IEEE International Symposium on Multiple- Valued Logic (Cat. No.98CB36138)*: 19–24. doi:10.1109/ISMVL.1998.679270. ISBN 978-0-8186-8371-8.**^**Heinlein, Robert A. (1982). "Variations on a Theme III: Domestic Problems".*Time Enough for Love*. Berkley Books. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-399-11151-8.

## External links[edit]

- "ROLUAN - Ternary ecosystem startup. Ternary software and hardware. Open source". Archived from the original on 2018-03-22.
- Tunguska - Ternary Operating System emulator
- 3niti - Collaboration for Open Ternary Computer Development
- Development of ternary computers at Moscow State University
- The ternary calculating machine of Thomas Fowler