Monday, February 4, 2013

Fishing For Paramecia

I'd forgotten about Joe Davis. Joe Davis is kind of an artist-in-residence (research affiliate) in the Department of Biology at MIT.

The other day I was thinking about sensory interfaces into realms we don't normally get input on, like, say, a microdrone in petri dish, checking up on microscopic life at their level. And then I remembered Joe Davis fishing pole contraption, an interface for fishing for parmecia in a drop of water.

And that reminded me of a video I saw one time of a little micro-robot that was controlled by magnetic fields, and in the video, it was bumping into a human cell. Really, you couldn't call it a true robot, not the micro part. That was a just a crude sliver of ferromagnetic material, really not much than a chip of steel controlled by the macro portion of the robot, in turn controlled by a human. And it was an ironic scene indeed, to hear the news announcer rapturously praising this crude bit of metal, when it was next to a eukaryotic cell whose least complicated minor part was about a million times more sophisticated.

And that reminded me about Eric Drexler's grey goo, and how everyone was worried that - should nanotechnology reach an advanced stage - self-replicating robots would start feeding on their surrounds and multiply their numbers until the whole of the Earth was consumed by this "grey goo", as Drexler called it. Drexler has since admitted the fear of the grey goo scenario was unlikely, and sure enough that's true.

I mean, let's face it, when you get your nanotechnology sophisticated enough to self-replicate, and metabolize, then you enter the realm of biology. Biology, here on Earth, is a four billion-year-old proven, robust, hardy nanotechnology which would, quite frankly hand Drexler's grey goo its shredded ass back, should it come to that.The self-replicating robots are already here, and they own Drexler.

Of course, Drexler's scenario relied heavily on hand-waving. Somehow the self-replicating robots were able to turn carbon into a diamondoid material, which somehow they extracted from the carbon of living things. Thing is, though, he didn't, or wouldn't, specify exactly how this happened. But one thing we do know, it takes energy to extract and build. It takes chemistry to do all that, and I'm kind of betting that Drexler's chemistry is not quite up to speed with Nature's.

Combine that with the concept that these little self-replicators are generalists, kind of Swiss Army Knife  chemical processors. If you've ever used a Swiss Army Knife, you know it may be good for everything, but it is not particularly good at anything. And Nature has come (because of the cost involved in building connections) of modular specialist processes and creatures. And the creatures in turn cooperate to a degree that is deadly efficient. These hardy little rugged individualists love to form consortiums and divvy up the hard labor - with one critter specializing in one task, and relying upon others for other tasks. This community of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryia work quite well together, and are usually ready to consume any and all comers. Unless Drexler is ready to come up with his one self-supporting community of self-replicating robots, I really don't see how they have the slightest chacne of competing.

What's the point of this? Not really sure, just thinking about community lately. Society. How we all depend upon each other, and how it makes us - together - ready to take on all comers.

No comments:

Post a Comment