The coolest thing you learned this year?
Last year, I think it was at a dinner with Matt Ridley talking about the inter-gene warfare going on within our bodies, especially between the X and Y sex chromosomes.
For this year, I can’t seem to pick one thing. Conversations with the eponymous Mr. Smart come to mind. Here is an example of his thinking about the limitations of biology as a substrate for developing computational complexity.
Jaron Lanier is also a wonderful thinker, and when we writes for my favorite “interesting ideas” site (EDGE.org), it’s a potent combination. He makes an interesting counterpoint: “We're so used to thinking about computers in the same light as was available at the inception of computer science that it's hard to imagine an alternative, but an alternative is available to us all the time in our own bodies.”
Reconciling the two, perhaps biology will drive the future of intelligence and information technology – not literally, but figuratively and metaphorically and primarily through powerful abstractions.
Many of the interesting software challenges relate to growing resilient complex systems or they are inspired by other biological metaphors (e.g., artificial evolution, biomimetics, neural networks for pattern recognition, artificial immunology for virus and spam detection, genetic algorithms, A-life, emergence, IBM’s Autonomic Computing initiative, meshes and sensor nets, hives, and the subsumption architecture in robotics). Tackling the big unsolved problems in info tech will likely turn us to biology – as our muse, and for an existence proof that solutions are possible.