Are AMOEBAS the future of computing?

Daily Express :: Science Feed
Are AMOEBAS the future of computing?

The amoeba may be smarter than ever imagined and could hold the key to changing computing forever. Scientists have have discovered the single-celled creatures' unique computing abilities that could potentially supersede conventional processors. Keio University researchers used the amoeba to solve a notoriously complex puzzle known as the Traveling Salesman Problem.

The problem’s goal is to find the shortest distance a salesman can take that visits each city and returns to the salesman’s city of origin.

The complexity of calculating a correct solution increases exponentially as more cities are added.

For example, there are only three possible solutions if there are four cities, but there are 360 possible solutions if there are six cities.

The complexity increases exponentially from there.

The Keio University researchers adapted the problem so the amoeba, which can deform its body, was able to use a specially-designed chip with 64 “legs”.

In the experiment, each 'leg' represents an ordered city in the salesman's route.

The researchers placed the amoeba in the centre of the chip, and then placed the chip on top of an agar plate.

The amoeba is confined within the chip, but can still move into the 64 channels.

In order to maximise the absorption of nutrients, the amoeba tries to expand inside the chip.

The researchers used light, which the amoebas dislike, to block certain routes or “legs”.

As as the number of cities increases, the time needed for a traditional computer to solve it grows exponentially due to the large number of possible solutions.

The Keio University researchers discovered an amoeba can find almost optimal solutions in an amount of time that grows only linearly as the number of cities grows.

The amoeba explores the solution space by continuously redistributing the gel in its amorphous body at a constant rate, they say, as well as by processing optical feedback in parallel instead of serially.

The researchers are now developing an electronic version of the amoeba to replicate the creatures’ unique approach to the problem.

The Keio University research team leader Masashi Aono said: “These results may lead to the development of novel analogue computers enabling approximate solutions of complex optimisation problems in linear time.

“In our stellate chip for solving the n-city TSP, the total area of the body of the amoeba becomes n when the amoeba finally finds an approximate solution.

“There seems to be a 'law' that the amoeba supplies its gelatinous resource to expand in the non-illuminated channels at a constant rate, say, x.

“But still, the mechanism by which how the amoeba maintains the quality of the approximate solution, that is, the short route length, remains a mystery.”

The researchers believe, by fabricating a larger chip, the amoeba will be able to solve Traveling Salesman Problem problems with hundreds of cities, although this would require tens of thousands of channels.

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