Designers, ask yourself: “What would bacteria do?”

Physarum polycephalum shows a better route to Glasgow

Physarum polycephalum shows us a different route to Glasgow. What else can we learn from biology?

Imagine two geeks, after one nine-hour flight from Heathrow, two trips through customs, three checked bags, two Coronas and one missed flight back home to San Francisco, stuck in the Calgary airport. Someone, inevitably, brings up programmable nanotech.

Me: “But we can already program bacteria to do all that stuff.”

Gary: “Bacteria are too slow!”

Me: “Well do you want it done fast or do you want it done right?”

Or something like that. I don’t really remember, having been both drunk and deliriously jet lagged at the time, but a conclusion was reached that I should read more of the existing literature on programmable nanotech. (Yes, from the 80s. Psh.)

There’s another point to be made here, though, now that I’m home, sober, and have caught up on my New Scientist RSS feed. I may have mentioned in a previous post that I’m a huge biology nerd. DNA is an amazing, self-replicating machine, with a brilliant mechanism for dealing with a constantly changing universe built in. If there is a way to solve a problem, biology has probably already done it.

Life, as it turns out, is the ultimate user experience.

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  1. Posted January 11, 2010 at 10:05 | Permalink

    as I waited for the bacteria and bacteriophages to get their shit together, 10000 generations of self replicating assemblers driven by evolutionary simulations (running in software) surpassed my wildest expectations. Right way? Wrong way? Not sure what that means. It was nature’s way, except unlike DNA my trial and error was largely virtual. I didn’t have to brute force every possible permutation just to see what happened next.

  2. Posted January 11, 2010 at 22:05 | Permalink

    … but those evolutionary simulations I mentioned are assumed to be running on some kind of finite state machine… Really don’t know the related subjects well enough to know if that makes a difference or not. The information density, complexity and fractalness of biology is hard to ignore. Brute forcing the parametric space may be the optimal way to explore it. That is, the computations can’t be run faster than physics

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