Scientists and engineers continue to find the most elegant solutions to practical problems by looking at plants and animals.  Here are a few of the recent examples.

1.         Wet computing:  Cells and brains do a superior job of complex processing, so why are our current computers singing how dry I am?  Not for much longer. ScienceDaily1 reported that “A new kind of information processing technology inspired by chemical processes in living systems is being developed by researchers at the University of Southampton.”  What they have so far is “very crude” but they are working toward developing a “liquid brain” just like our brains.  Dr. Klaus-Peter Zauner at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science said, “People realise now that the best information processes we have are in our heads and as we are increasingly finding that silicon has its limitations in terms of information processing, we need to explore other approaches, which is exactly what we are doing here.”  Makes you wonder why IBM didn’t follow that inspiration early on.  Think of the other benefits: “Our system will copy some key features of neuronal pathways in the brain and will be capable of excitation, self-repair and self-assembly,” said fellow researcher Dr. Maurits de Planque.

The BBC News2 also reported on this story.  Dr. Zauner told them, “Every neuron is like a molecular computer; ours is a very crude abstraction of what neurons do.”  The planned chemical computers will also have another characteristically human trait: lipids, or fat.

2.         Slime mold highways:  What would a slimy mold have to teach humans? NewScientist3 reported two specialists in “unconventional computing” believe they can provide alternative methods for road planning.  After watching a slime mold in a petri dish find the best path to nutrients on a map of England, comprised of oat flakes, Jeff Jones of the University of the West of England in Bristol said, “This shows how a single-celled creature without any nervous system — and thus intelligence in the classical sense — can provide an efficient solution to a routing problem.”….

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