Natural Computing: DNA, Quantum Bits, and the Future of Smart Machines

Natural Computing: DNA, Quantum Bits, and the Future of Smart Machines

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0393336832

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Reports from the cutting edge, where physics and biology are changing the fundamental assumptions of computing.

Computers built from DNA, bacteria, or foam. Robots that fix themselves on Mars. Bridges that report when they are aging. This is the bizarre and fascinating world of Natural Computing. Computer scientist and Scientific American’s “Puzzling Adventures” columnist Dennis Shasha here teams up with journalist Cathy Lazere to explore the outer reaches of computing. Drawing on interviews with fifteen leading scientists, the authors present an unexpected vision: the future of computing is a synthesis with nature. That vision will change not only computer science but also fields as disparate as finance, engineering, and medicine. Space engineers are at work designing machines that adapt to extreme weather and radiation. “Wetware” processing built on DNA or bacterial cells races closer to reality. One scientist’s “extended analog computer” measures answers instead of calculating them using ones and zeros. In lively, readable prose, Shasha and Lazere take readers on a tour of the future of smart machines. 50 illustrations

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accident. Engineers traditionally ascribe accidents to a root cause in the chain of events leading to the accident. Leveson argues that this approach is both simplistic and harmful. Often the chain starts at the most convenient root cause, and usually only one root cause is identified. In addition, systemic factors that allowed the events to occur are often ignored. Leveson cites the Bhopal chemical accident as an example of how systemic factors create overwhelming events. In December 1984, the

unsafe. Errors happen. The question is how to design and operate the system so that normal errors and failures do not lead to a catastrophic accident. Blaming the accident on operator error removed most of the responsibility from the company and the Indian government, which owned 26% of the plant. Blaming the accident on an act of sabotage removed the responsibility from management altogether. By contrast, Leveson’s viewpoint highlights the need for major reform in the overall running of the

little DNA bricks into aperiodic crystals. Rothemund wrote up his DNA Turing machine, and Winfree wrote up his DNA cellular automata. The two young scientists paid their own way to Princeton to present their papers at the first Conference on DNA Computing in 1995. There, Winfree and Rothemund went out to dinner with Len Adleman and Ned Seeman (see the preceding chapter, on Seeman). Rothemund became a graduate student in Adleman’s lab at the University of Southern California, working there for

circuit building blocks that can be hooked together. The component library should have an accompanying software tool that enables a designer to formulate a biological circuit on a computer and experiment with its behavior before committing to the biological substrate. The components will be placed inside cells that provide the machinery to keep energy flowing. The biobricks take the form of artificial gene-promoter pairs. For now, they are designed not to interfere with the cell’s normal behavior

further. Biological cells sense the environment. That capability could help in a programming setting. Cells in the lower right corner of the rectangle receive more of chemical CA than CB. That difference is a signal for the cells to move toward a greater concentration of CB, causing a right triangle to be formed. Nagpal and her group have designed a modular table whose legs lengthen or contract on uneven ground to keep the top of the table level—each leg senses balance and responds. The

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