How do you make a computer with slime mould?

Issue date: 23 January 2014

Physarum polycephalum

A unique event, bringing together the research of Andy Adamatzky, (Professor of Unconventional Computing, UWE Bristol) with artist Theresa Schubert, takes place on 24 January at the Art Laboratory, Berlin.

Theresa Schubert (DE) is a post-media artist and works as an artistic researcher at the Bauhaus-University Weimar. Andrew Adamatzky (UK) is Professor in Unconventional Computing in the Department of Computer Science, Director of the Unconventional Computing Centre, and a member of Bristol Robotics Lab at the University of the West of England.

The event will seek to convey the results of experiments from Professor Adamatzky's research which focuses on the living slime mould organism Physarum polycephalum. The talk with the artist and the scientist will last a couple of hours with feedback from the audience and discussions.

The event in Berlin is part of a programme of public engagement for the Phychip Project a European research project which aims to develop a Physarum chip - a network of processing elements made of living slime mould which could be used asan alternative to the conventional silicon chip.

“The patterns of living, novel computing media require new modes of aesthetic thinking arising from the work of a transdisciplinary team from art and science”, says Theresa Schubert.

Speaking about the event and the research, Professor Andy Adamatzky says, “We hope to stimulate discussion and increase awareness of the research through this event, and bring to life many of the complex and changing notions around computing and technology. The research is still in the experimental phase and this dialogue with art provides a way for the public to gain some insight into what we are trying to do.”

“We are experimenting with Physarum to create a hybrid machine that is a programmable amorphous biological computer. Conventional information technology has developed for half a century with a more or less unchanged operational principles and device structures. The possible physical limits of existing computers are now becoming apparent. A radical change in the underlying information processing substrate can ensure that computing power meets the demands of a future world. The PhyChip hybridises classical computer architectures with a unique self-growing biological substrate.”

“Slime-mould based computing devices are ideal non-silicon complements of conventional processors, novel and emerging computing architectures, robotic controllers and embedded processors for smart structures. A Physarum machine can play the role of universal and general-purpose computer yet also efficiently solve specialised tasks.”

The Physarum Chip will be a stand-alone computing device that will be a `green' and environmentally friendly unconventional computer. It requires little energy to sustain and can be fed almost any kind of nutrients. The unwanted machine can be stored as sclerotium (dried up matter which will reactivate in the right conditions) or be returned to a food chain.

The research is funded by an EU grant of over 2 million Euros, under the Seventh Framework Programme, in the area of Unconventional Computation (UCOMP).

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