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My Computer Gave Me Dysentery

May 28, 2008

My rudimentary understanding of how computers work is that they’re composed of millions of little on and off switches, 0s and 1s, yes and no answers. These silica-based components are simple and slow on their own, but put together in the right way, they allow computers to make calculations far faster than our human brains ever could.

In a recent breakthrough described in this article, it has been shown that a new, non-silica foundation is possible for computers: living bacteria. Specifically, our good old friend E. coli. The article can fill you in on the details of this research, which is currently in its early stages, but they key is that a biological computer like this has the potential to be considerably faster and more efficient than a silica-based computer.

Scientists seem hesitant to make that claim, since the bacteria only solved a simple problem, but they’re still treating the bacteria like on/off switches, so I think there’s a huge amount of potential here. This paragraph in particular is really interesting:

“In the computer, the proteins make a bacterium resistant to antibiotics and keep it alive — but only if it solves the problem. If a bacterium can’t solve the problem, i.e. flip the pancake into the correct order, antibiotics kill it.”

So…computers would have the potential to evolve? The bacteria that responded well to stimuli and solved problems faster and better would live, while the others would die. Think about this. Instead of buying a 512 MB RAM, 80 GB device that retained the same specs a few years down the road, you’re computer could increase its own speed and capacity over time. That’s cool, but scary.

Plus, you’d have to deal with having a living organism under your desk. Perhaps there would be a whole new strain of computer viruses, viruses that could be transmute to humans. You could get a cold from your computer!

Either this is the start of a whole new type of computing, or these bacteria will forever stay in labs as fodder for biology students.

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