Scientists working to create book-sized living, breathing supercomputers

Scientists successfully built a model biological supercomputer that runs on stuff that runs through us and gives energy to our cells; they say book-sized living, breathing supercomputers are coming.

Credit: Bonnyb Bendix

If you want to change the world, it might not occur to you to start by getting drunk. At least that’s how it happened for an idea that led to a tiny biological computer which will reportedly be morphed into a “living, breathing supercomputer” about the size of a book.

“We’ve managed to create a very complex network in a very small area,” said McGill University’s Dan Nicolau, Chair of the Department of Bioengineering. “This started as a back of an envelope idea, after too much rum I think, with drawings of what looked like small worms exploring mazes.”

A tiny living, breathing computer may have once been science fiction, but now it’s simply science. Scientists created a model for a biological computer and McGill said it can “process information very quickly and accurately using parallel networks in the same way that massive electronic supercomputers do.”

Reading the full text and watching the videos from “Parallel computation with molecular-motor-propelled agents in nanofabricated networks,” published by an international team of researchers on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sort of made my head hurt. I’m fairly certain that getting drunk and attempting it again will not make it any clearer. While I’m not going to pretend I fully understand it, I will quote a dumbed-down explanation from McGill University. It seems like if something has the potential to change the computing world forever, we should at least look into it.

McGill University reported:

The circuit the researchers have created looks a bit like a road map of a busy and very organized city as seen from a plane. Just as in a city, cars and trucks of different sizes, powered by motors of different kinds, navigate through channels that have been created for them, consuming the fuel they need to keep moving.

biocomputer model living, breathing supercomputer McGill University

But in the case of the biocomputer, the city is a chip measuring about 1.5 cm square in which channels have been etched. Instead of the electrons that are propelled by an electrical charge and move around within a traditional microchip, short strings of proteins (which the researchers call biological agents) travel around the circuit in a controlled way, their movements powered by ATP, the chemical that is, in some ways, the juice of life for everything from plants to politicians.

Sometimes it helps to see things at scale, so if the centimeter to pixel converter and my graphics program were accurate, then below is the approximate size of the biocomputer’s chip.

size of the biocomputers chip

Forget about needing massive space for supercomputers and any potential cooling needs since it runs on adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the stuff that “provides energy to all the cells in our body,” according to McGill’s press release. In other words, it “hardly heats up at all” and needs little energy which makes it sustainable.

Although it very efficiently tackled a complex classical mathematical problem such as a supercomputer could, the researchers admitted it’s not yet a full-scale functional computer. Now that there’s a model, they expect other researchers to try other biological agents.

“It’s hard to say how soon it will be before we see a full scale bio super-computer,” added Nicolau. “One option for dealing with larger and more complex problems may be to combine our device with a conventional computer to form a hybrid device. Right now we’re working on a variety of ways to push the research further.”

Download skill knowledge directly into brain

Here’s another sci-fi like idea that is becoming a reality. The day is coming when you don’t need knowledge in advance to learn a new skill. Scientists designed a simulator to feed data into a brain. It’s unknown how long before you can pull a page out of Matrix and download info directly into your brain. Hopefully that data isn’t tainted with malware, huh? Who knows, there might eventually be antivirus-like solutions for that…let’s hope they aren’t packed with bloatware like so many for computers are today.

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