image: a proposed example of an immune-inspired network system, source: SYMBRION & REPLICATOR
In identifying computer science as a nexus of interdisciplinary collaboration, Fernando Esponda cites Artificial Immune Systems (AIS) as research exemplifying this sentiment. Esponda describes AIS as an attempt by computer scientists and immunologists to "learn nature's algorithms for defending the body against pathogens and apply them as another security paradigm to other areas"—an intriguing notion. After a little investigation, one of the most incredible AIS initiatives that I came across was the SYMBRION robotics project (pictured above). Conducted by a consortium of EU researchers in conjunction with the partner REPLICATOR project, the goal of SYMBRION is to
...investigate and develop novel principles of adaptation and evolution for symbiotic multi-robot organisms based on bio-inspired approaches and modern computing paradigms. Such robot organisms consist of super-large-scale swarms of robots, which can dock with each other and symbiotically share energy and computational resources within a single artificial-life-form. When it is advantageous to do so, these swarm robots can dynamically aggregate into one or many symbiotic organisms and collectively interact with the physical world via a variety of sensors and actuators. The bio-inspired evolutionary paradigms combined with robot embodiment and swarm-emergent phenomena, enable the organisms to autonomously manage their own hardware and software organization. In this way, artificial robotic organisms become self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing and self-protecting from both hardware and software perspectives. This leads not only to extremely adaptive, evolve-able and scalable robotic systems, but also enables robot organisms to reprogram themselves without human supervision and for new, previously unforeseen, functionality to emerge.
Self-assembling robots, algorithmic modeling of the immune system and emergent intelligence—SYMBRION is not lacking in ambition. This network of robots essentially emulates the functioning of the lymphatic system to try to establish and maintain a homeostatic state. It would be a disservice to summarize such a complex project within the space of a short blog post but interested readers should note the extensive documentation and images that provide a window into this research.
Stargate Replicants anyone? At least, the original variety, not the ones that read minds and mimicked humans. Coarser grey goo.
I remember a SciFi story from the 60's in which a very small self-mobile and self-repairing computer (using DNA for its logic circuits) was invented. It soon invented self-replication, then removed its 'off' switch from replication inventory. Two things they did: using old cans of spam as piston engines (shaking them till they exploded) and using zombified slot machine addicts, hooking pulleys up to the slot machine levers. But I have been totally unable to recall the title. Anybody out there know it?