COMP: Smart paint talk at Caltech

From: Patrick Wilken (
Date: Wed Jan 02 2002 - 16:38:05 MST

Those of you in the LA area might be interested in the following talk:

CS Seminar:
Tuesday, JAN 8th
4:00 - 5:00pm
Baxter Lecture Hall
Reception at 3:45pm

                        Amorphous Computing

                        Gerald Jay Sussman

Digital computers have always been constructed to behave as precise
arrangements of reliable parts, and our techniques for organizing
computations depend upon this precision and reliability. Two emerging
technologies, however, are begnning to undercut these assumptions
about constructing and programming computers. These technologies --
microfabrication and bioengineering -- will make it possible to
assemble systems composed of myriad information-processing units at
almost no cost, provided: 1) that not all the units need to work
correctly; and 2) that there is no need to manufacture precise
geometrical arrangements or interconnection patterns among them.

Microelectronic mechanical components are becoming so inexpensive to
manufacture that we can anticipate combining logic circuits,
microsensors, actuators, and communications devices integrated on the
same chip to produce particles that could be mixed with bulk
materials, such as paints, gels, and concrete. Imagine coating
bridges or buildings with smart paint that can sense and report on
traffic and wind loads and monitor structural integrity of the bridge.
A smart paint coating on a wall could sense vibrations, monitor the
premises for intruders, or cancel noise. Even more striking, there
has been such astounding progress in understanding the biochemical
mechanisms in individual cells, that it appears we'll be able to
harness these mechanisms to construct digital-logic circuits. Imagine
a discipline of cellular engineering that could tailor-make biological
cells that function as sensors and actuators, as programmable delivery
vehicles for pharmaceuticals, as chemical factories for the assembly
of nanoscale structures. Fabricating such systems seem to be within
our reach, even if it is not yet within our grasp

Fabrication, however, is only part of the story. We can envision
producing vast quantities of individual computing elements, whether
microfabricated particles, engineered cells, or macromolecular
computing agents constructed by engineered cells, but we have few
ideas for programming them effectively:

      How can one engineer prespecified, coherent behavior
      from the cooperation of immense numbers of unreliable
      parts that are interconnected in unknown, irregular,
      and time-varying ways?

This is the challenge of Amorphous Computing.

Host: Alain Martin

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