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

The Algorithm Design Manual (2nd Edition), Corrected printing 2012













shielding expert confirmed that this design was right. The genetic algorithm had discovered the solution by exploring thousands of generations of designs in only a few minutes, saving time and money. Genetic algorithms can handle many constraints all at once—far more than a human can comfortably handle. In building nuclear power plants, for example, designers have to deal with the problem of radioactive waste. Disposing of nuclear waste is a complicated issue involving many processes, capital

sister had all died of cancer. Although he had no training as a medical or pharmaceutical researcher, he wanted to design a computational tool that would someday be used to develop life-saving drugs. “I had no illusions about being a general in the war against cancer,” Shaw says, “but it felt good just being a soldier.” Molecular dynamics examines configurations of multi-atom structures, along with the atoms in their environment, and then determines how the configurations change over time in

“Computers were the closest thing to magic. When you program a computer, you touch something that is invisible; it’s powerful, it’s controllable, and it’s flexible.” Mills next went to the Argonne National Laboratory. Founded in 1946, Argonne was the first national laboratory and is now located on a campus twenty-five miles from downtown Chicago. There, Mills built a machine for the logic language Prolog. For several months, he had the world’s fastest Prolog compiler. On the strength of that

better way to factor, that agency could break many codes but would probably not break its silence about having cracked those codes. Shor was able to construct his algorithm by reducing the factoring problem to finding the “order” of a repeating sequence—a problem particularly well suited to quantum computing (see the box “Shor’s Algorithm”). Shor’s algorithm raised hopes for an exponential breakthrough, but it worked for only a very special problem. Grover’s algorithm gives less of a speedup

seemed on board with the Brooks philosophy. “They said we’re going to do it faster, cheaper, better. We’re not going to do it the old way. We’re going to do it smarter,” Brooks recalls. Then the next mission to Mars failed. “Faster, cheaper, better got canned.” Since then, Brooks’s company, iRobot, has been making autonomous vacuum cleaners called Roombas for household use. It also manufactures bomb-disarming robots for the military. The bioengineer Robert Full has collaborated with iRobot on

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