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No. 115: Jan-Feb 1998

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Evolvable Hardware

First, you must envision a computer chip as an evolvable entity -- an array of logic gates that can be connected in an almost infinite number of ways. A soft-ware instruction becomes the equivalent of a biological gene. Software instructions can be changed to achieve certain hardware goals just as genes can be rearranged to modify an organism. Furthermore, human operators can specify a hardware goal to the chip and let it evolve on its own, something it can do in microseconds rather than millions of years.

This is not a frivilous subject. D. Fogel, chief scientist at Natural Selection, Inc., in La Jolla, California, asserts:

"Eventually, we will need to know how to design hardware when we have no idea how to do it."

A few demonstration devices have already been built, and in them we see something worthy of note for Science Frontiers. One such device, built by A. Thompson, University of Sussex, was tasked to identify specific audio notes by certain voltage signals. Given 100 logic gates, the device needed only 32 to achieve the result. The surprise was that some of these working gates were not even connected to others by normal wiring. Thompson admitted that he had no idea how the device worked. Something completely unexpected had evolved. Perhaps, thought Thompson, some of the circuits are coupled electromagnetically rather than by wires. Human engineers would never have tried this stratagem; it is not even in their computer-design repertoire.

(Taubes, Gary; "Computer Design Meets Darwin," Science, 277:1931, 1997.)

Comments. Evolvable hardware, like God and Nature, works in mysterious ways! As the above type of hardware evolves, it will probably leave a "fossil record" full of mysterious transitions!

What shall we call the units a cyberheredity? "Cyberenes" is too cumbersome. How about: "bytenes"?

From Science Frontiers #115, JAN-FEB 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss