What is the difference between 100 kilograms of human being and 100 kilograms of algae? One answer to this question is the veins and arteries that carry nutrients throughout the human body, allowing for the intricate coordination needed in a complex organism. Energy requirements determine how the evolutionary process settles on the body plans appropriate to an environment — one way to tell the story of life’s major innovations is in terms of how a living system solves the problems of increasing body size with internal transport networks and more extensive regulation. And the same is true in our invented information systems, every bit as subject to the laws of physics as we are. Computers, just like living tissue, seek effective tradeoffs between their scale and energy efficiency. A physics of metabolic scaling — one that finds deep commonalities and crucial differences between ant hives and robot swarms, between the physiology of elephants and server farms — can help explain some of the biggest puzzles of the fossil record and sketch out the likely future evolution of technology. It is already revolutionizing how we understand search algorithms and the genius of eusocial organisms. And just maybe, it can also help us solve the challenge of sustainability for planetary culture.
This week’s guest is Melanie Moses, External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, Professor of Computer Science and Biology at the University of New Mexico, and Principal Investigator for the NASA Swarmathon. In this episode, we talk about her highly interdisciplinary work on metabolic scaling in biology and computer information-processing, and how complex systems made and born alike have found ingenious ways to balance the demands of growth and maintenance — with implications for space exploration, economics, computer chip design, and more.
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“Beyond pheromones: evolving error-tolerant, flexible, and scalable ant-inspired robot swarms” by Joshua Hecker & Melanie Moses.
“Energy and time determine scaling in biological and computer designs” by Moses, et al.
“Shifts in metabolic scaling, production, and efficiency across major evolutionary transitions of life” by DeLong, Moses, et al.
“Distributed adaptive search in T cells: lessons from ants” by Melanie Moses, et al.
“Curvature in metabolic scaling” by Kolokotrones, et al.
The NASA Swarmathon.
Podcast Theme Music by Mitch Mignano.
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