Dust off your thinking hat and do some mind-stretches because here’s another course of Interesting Maths Esoterica! It’s been several months since the last volume so this is quite a big post. I won’t mind if you skim it.
In case you’re new to this: every now and then I encounter a paper or a book or an article that grabs my interest but isn’t directly useful for anything. It might be about some niche sub-sub-subtopic I’ve never heard of, or it might talk about something old from a new angle, or it might just have a funny title. I put these things in my Interesting Esoterica collection on Mendeley. And then when I’ve gathered up enough, I collect them here.
This is the platonic ideal of an entry in my Interesting Esoterica collection: two scientists from Kobe University and one from UWE’s excellently-named International Center of Unconventional Computing have written a paper, Robust Soldier Crab Ball Gate, claiming that swarms of soldier crabs Mictyris guinotae can be persuaded to act as logic gates, from which a universal computer could be built. The paper first describes how they modelled swarms of crabs, then how the logic gates are implemented, and ends with data from an experiment with real soldier crabs. The AND gate worked about two thirds of the time, which isn’t bad.
It looks like this paper is a follow-up to the earlier work, Slime mould logical gates: exploring ballistic approach, which did basically the same thing on a smaller scale. I can only think that the next step must be to use humans.
I’ve given a talk about other unlikely computing machines: I can’t believe it’s a universal computer!