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What Is Bio-Inspired Computing?

By H. Colledge
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bio-inspired computing, or biologically inspired computing, is a way of developing computer systems by taking ideas from the biological world. The reverse is also true, in that computer science is used to model and explore biological systems, and these two approaches of bio-inspired computing can also interact. Organic computing systems inspired by nature can be self-organizing networks which are able to adapt. Bio-inspired computing also takes a new approach to artificial intelligence, constructing simple systems which are able to evolve into more complex ones. Populations of independent agents can form an intelligence together, working in ways which resemble the behavior of bees or ants, and the computer algorithms which simulate this are known as swarm intelligence.

The field of bio-inspired computing brings together researchers from many disciplines, including biology, computer science, physics, mathematics and genetics. Biological systems have many advantages over computer systems, as they use far less energy, can survive faults and are even able to heal. Many of the ideas taken from natural processes have been applied to machine learning, leading to new developments in artificial intelligence. Autonomous robots, able to respond and adapt to their environments, could have numerous advantages working in areas such as war zones and hazardous clean-up operations. Populations of many tiny robots could be used to carry out tasks such as crop pollination.

Bio-inspired computing has been applied to the field of cognitive modeling, with the development of artificial neural network systems based on nerve function in the brain. Computer chips have been developed which are capable of learning, evolving and working as a group. Linked by self-organizing wireless connections, they can create a system which is ideally suited to modeling complex problems that arise from many simple factors combined. As the chips can reconfigure themselves and learn, this removes the need to load software programs and operations can proceed more quickly. Such systems could help understand the spread of ideas through a population, or create a model of brain function that resembles real biological processes.

Natural computation is being researched involving the use of DNA. Bioinformatics research suggests that DNA strands might be used to store data, to code secret messages or even to compute. DNA molecules could also assemble themselves into useful structures.

Biological parts could potentially be engineered and used to replace hardware inside computers, functioning as switches, processors, timers and other devices. Some biological molecules are already being used in electronics. It might even be possible to program cells inside the body to perform tasks such as drug secretion.

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