Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Biological Models of Computing

As you probably know if you've heard me talk for couple of minutes, I'm a big fan of biological models of computing. That is, the idea of borrowing structural, process, and relational ideas from biology, and using them in programmed software artifacts. We've used kinds of these for a while: neural nets (inspired by a simple model of neurons), genetic programming, cellular automata, etc.

I'm at Eric Bonabeau's keynote now, which is as always interesting, but my frustration in this field (which came up more at last night's birds-of-a-feather session on biological models) is the paucity of different kinds of inspiration.

Biology is an incredibly complex, rich, and broad field, and yet computer scientists seem to use the same biological idea over and over again. Yes, evolution is a powerful process, and the brain is great, and ants do a lot of impresssive stuff, but where's everything else?

What about metabolism, or protein signalling, or ecology, or circulation, or developmental biology, or metamorphosis, or predation, or protein folding, or gene expression regulation, or social primates, or meiosis, or pheromone communication, or flocking, or coral colonies, or morphogenesis,... you get the idea.