ARTIFICIAL LIFE: Most of the people at the conference I went to over the weekend were biologists, and I felt pretty lonely as the only computer scientist present. It's good to see that programmers will still have plenty to do even once the biologists take over the computer world! Really though, it's amazing to see the confluence of everything with computer science -- that's why I went into CS in the first place. As soon as biologists get these cellular computers working they'll need someone to show them how to best make use of them, and the theory and engineering will fall to those of us in computer science. Not that the biologists couldn't learn it, but I imagine that just as I get glassy-eyed when they talk about restriction enzymes and organelles, they won't have much patience for the complexity theory and distributed algorithms that will be necessary to make these cells perform useful tasks.

As an aside, these biological computers are a fascinating parallel line of research to nanotechnology. Sure, nanotech microbes will be much smaller, but I expect there will be a lot of crossover. Biological machines will have certain advantages over nanotech, and vice versa, and they will be able to play off each other significantly. Most obviously, nanotech will be incredibly useful for designing the biological computers and monitoring their function. Imagine developing a cell piloted by nanotech microbes! The cell could serve as a spaceship for the nanotech crew and provide transportation through the environment and protection from the elements, as well as microscopic tools orders of magnitude larger than the nanotechs themselves. Of course, we could always just build micro-spaceships for our nano-nauts rather than relying on biological components at all. Lots of details to sort out before we'll know what's optimal for a given circumstance.

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