Creating living computers using slime mold [Video]
DNews has a fascinating short video about how slime mold could hold the keys to the future of computers.
Researchers from the University of West England are looking at how memristors could change the way computing is done, specifically by using slime mold.
Extreme Tech explains: "General speaking, when current flows in one direction through a memristor, its resistance increases, and when current flows in the opposite direction, it decreases. A key property of memristors is that when current flow restarts after having been interrupted, it retains the resistance value it had when it was deactivated."
So for example, as memristors can remember the position it was in when it was turned off, a computer can go right back to what it was doing when you shut it down. Memristors don't yet exist, but the slime mold, as the researchers discovered, is pretty much a living version of the concept -- they think that this is the stepping stone to figuring out how to make memristors a real thing.
The biggest obstacle to practical application at the moment is the lifespan of the P. polycephalum. But engineers might not need to actually incorporate living P. polycephalum to take advantage of this research. “Part of the idea of the ongoing research is to include metal nanoparticles and make computers that way, which may involve using living slime mold to lay down circuitry before killing it to leave behind wiring,” she says. “This could be a cheaper and greener way to make circuits."
The pros of living computers include that they are smaller, cheaper to make, and self-repairing. The cons include, well, living computers that become our overlords.
The interest in slime mold doesn't end with computing outside of the body. As Extreme Tech notes, "Learning more about how slime molds “solve” optimization problems, or variously employ specific chemo-ionic modules that reveal themselves as nonlinear electrical properties, like memristance, will give greater insights into many aspects of life. The ways that brains structure themselves, and use that structure to solve problems for the body, undoubtedly makes use of a core set of principles first discovered by single cells that had to fend for themselves."
Be sure to watch the video above for a great overview of what slime mold means to modern (or futuristic) computing.