Monday, December 06, 2004

Biological Model Panacea

The ubiquitous meme du jour is applying biological models to current technological challenges. Witness Janine Banyus' biomimicry, Steve Jurvetson and other's biomemetics, the load of "emergent" behaviorists and many others. Really is this just an extension of the complex adaptive systems / chaos theories?

If we framed the real challenge more broadly, we might think of other tools to use. One slant of the challenge is merging our ideas and realities of "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches. The top down approach is continuing to manipulate our environment with the same technological tools, improved in the same straight-line, known, forecasted methods; the leading example of which is semiconductor design and production. Bottom-up, on the other hand is looking to biology and other models of building from the smallest elements up, molecular assembly, copying through DNA. I guess the reason we are trying to merge is not just running into the tools/technical limits of continuing to extend top-down approaches but really the desire to extend human manipulability and control over the environment, to the extent of building structures from the atomic level.

Bio-models should not be looked at as the next black box (whose inner workings remain a mystery) as were neural nets, cellular automata and computers in general in some cases where we abdicate control and understanding perhaps due to drudgery as well as the plea of inability to understand the complexities.

I think it is more important to focus on the basic physics of understanding and manipulating atomic behavior. Applying biological models is a sideline, and its possible that a better understanding of biological systems will be the result of greater basic physics learnings.


Descoindia said...

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