[extropy-chat] Living machines

Giu1i0 Pri5c0 gpmap at runbox.com
Tue Feb 3 07:03:49 UTC 2004

>From Wired: Technology and biology are converging fast. The result will
transform everything from engineering to art - and redefine life as we know
it. This interesting article gives examples of features and behaviours
typical of the living world now found in artificial systems and gadgets. For
example, computer scientists are only just beginning to view operating
system design from a biological perspective. In fact, that's the goal of
autonomic computing, an approach that mimics the way the central nervous
system regulates the body. Other examples:
NASA's Space Technology 5 nanosatellites, which are scheduled to start
measuring Earth's magnetosphere in late 2004, requires an antenna that can
receive a wide range of frequencies regardless of the spacecraft's
orientation. Rather than leave such exacting requirements in the hands of a
human, the engineers decided to breed a design using genetic algorithms and
32 Linux PCs. The computers generated small antenna-constructing programs
(the genotypes) and executed them to produce designs (the phenotypes). Then
the designs were evaluated using an antenna simulator.
Like strands of DNA, email messages have a standard data format that amounts
to a genome for legitimate email. Spammers exploit and mutate email genes to
obscure the origin or content of their messages, creating distinctive spam
genes. The genetic approach has made it possible for Cloudmark to identify
spam with better than 98 percent accuracy. And our system is continually
improving: Whenever it mistakes a legit message for spam, a program called
the Evolution Engine mutates the spam genes involved and sends the
misidentified message back through the filter until it classifies the
message correctly. Result: an increasingly precise definition of the spam
genome, and thus increasingly effective filtering.
Research into artificial intelligence aims to make machines more responsive
to their environments. The AI method, however, has been to program devices
to react to specific events, creating machines that are unable to cope with
unexpected circumstances. Complexity theory offers a different perspective.
If a car were designed like a living thing - as a collection of components
wired to regulate one another in response to external stimuli, like organs
mediated by a nervous system - it would act more like a living thing.
Colonies of simulated ants laying down digital scent trails can find the
best way to send delivery trucks through city streets or data packets
through communication networks. More generally, ant algorithms can find
minimum-cost solutions to a variety of problems in distribution and
logistics. Unilever uses them to allocate storage tanks, chemical mixers,
and packaging facilities. Southwest Airlines uses them to optimize its cargo
operations. Numerous consulting houses, such as the Swiss firm AntOptima,
have embraced them as an indispensable tool.
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