Computers surround us now. Most of them surpass the compute power of the mainframes of yesteryear but few of them do the familiar jobs of yesteryear: accounting, payroll and other sorts of business record-keeping. As their costs dropped and their numbers exploded the role computers play in the world has changed dramatically. They entertain us, help us communicate with each other, and act as our memories. Some are begining to talk with us. Mostly, however, they silently communicate with and collaborate with each other in the language of bits and bytes.
As recently as 1991, most computers operated independently from each other. A few exchanged primitive email or used FTP-like tools over phone lines with primitive modems to transfer files. Some collaborated in client-server relationships with internal corporate networks, banking systems or airline reservation systems. In 1992 a tiny number of computers in universities or research labs were connected together to form a persistent network which grew into the nascent Web. Nonetheless, for several years after the origins ot the Internet, most computing continued to be done by single disconnected computers.
Today, only twenty years later, an isolated computer is something of an oddity. At least a billion computers exchange information at Internet speeds. Huge "clouds" of them communicate only with each other! Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Baidu (China's Google equivalent) and many others less well-known spider, crawl, and catalog the Web constantly. Hundreds of thousands of such computers collaborate together to provide services on our laptops or iPhones that we already take for granted. The digital world inexorably becomes complex beyond our comprehension. But there is no going back.
Bigger groups of computers collaborate in ever more complicated and less transparent ways as programmers and computing architects think of new ways to exploit digital collaboration and try to reduce the hazards of computer viruses, worms, botnets, and all sorts of other malware. At the same time, cyber criminals and other digital predators devise new tricks to exploit these complex interactions for their own purposes.
This website is about the idea that the evolution of computing is similar to the evolution of other complex systems -- biological, social, ecological, and economic systems. In each of these domains, the elements become increasingly more specialized and sophisticated, and they interact with each other in ever more complex ways. From that perspective, the similarities between biology and computing are not coincidental.
The organizing principles of multicellular biological systems suggest architectural principles that multicellular computing can mimic to tame the spiraling problems of complexity and out-of-control interactions in the Internet. Four fundamental principles were fundamental to the transition from single-cell life to multicellular life. Not coincidentally, the same four principles turn out to be helpful in computing systems. They are:
These four principles
This site explores these principles in considerable detail -- more detail than most readers would want to absorb in one sitting. It presents each principle in its biological context and describes its benefits both for multicellular life and for computing.
If you are impatient, you might want to skip right to the end of the story and read the conclusions. However, as with many a mystery novel, reading the last few pages will tell you who-done-it without telling you the most interesting part...why. The conclusions may well not make much sense without seeing how we get there.
The site map or the link panels on the left of each page can help navigate to the various pages in an order that helps make sense of the story.
Contact: sburbeck at mindspring.com
Last revised 6/7/2012