Forget Silicon When You Have Bacterium…

Can't Wait for this in an iPad version...

Biological computing has been the subject of many science fiction movies and television shows, however as all scifi buffs reading this know that what was once the fantasy of fiction is the stuff of reality. Its worth noting after the waxing above I sit here in Europe having  just finished FaceTiming my wife a half world away on my iPad a device that would have even made Mr Spock proud to call it his own.

With this said it’s interesting that some scientists and engineers toil to develop improved versions of current silicon the  computing technology.   Well their colleagues on the carbon based side of the world (biology) are looking into a drastically different approach to the same means. As the concepts of DNA based computing, much as we carbon centered humans use, offers the potential of performing massively parallel calculations at the cost of very low power consumption at small sizes.

While research in this area has been limited to small systems, a group of researchers from Caltech have recently constructed a series of  DNA logic gates using 130 different molecules which they then used the system to calculate the square roots of numbers. In addition, the same group has published a paper in Nature describing an artificial neural network, consisting of four neurons, created using the same DNA circuits.

In short the way this system works is the researchers preload “gates” with a molecule, then add a bunch of molecules to the input, and simply wait for the laws of statistics to kick in and do their thing.  As the process works out that the more of a given “input” molecule that is around to start with, the greater the likelihood there is  that it will displace the molecule at the gate, which then creates an output.  This is basically material science taking place at the nano-scale leveraging the natural properties of the molecule being used and hence low cost of applied energy within the system.

Even being in its infancy, should one apply Moore;s Law in a sigmodial fashion or subscribe to Kurzweil’s race to a singularity, this technology will be out of the lab into commercial use within the life time of many reading this post.  Even if further convincing is required, we only have to look to the fact that in the news its reported that Lockheed Martin has just been the first company to purchase the once mythical Quantum Computer and one has to wonder no more…