Wanted: chemists, or people who work(ed) with chemical molecules databases!
The chemlambda project
proposes the following. Chemlambda is a model of computation based on individual molecules, which compute alone, by themselves (in a certain well defined sense). Everything is formulated from the point of view of ONE molecule which interacts randomly with a family of enzymes.
Bad detail: chemlambda is not a real chemistry, it’s artificial.
Good detail: it is Turing universal in a very powerful sense. It does not rely on boolean gates kind of computation, but on the other pillar of computation which led to functional programming: lambda calculus.
So instead of molecular assemblies which mimic a silicon computer hardware, chemlambda can do sophisticated programming stuff with chemical reactions. (The idea that lambda calculus is a sort of chemistry appeared in the ALCHEMY (i.e. algorithmic chemistry) proposal by Fontana and Buss. Chemlambda is far more concrete and simple than Alchemy, principially different, but it nevertheless owes to Alchemy the idea that lambda calculus can be done chemically.)
From here, the following reasoning.
(a) Suppose we can make this chemistry real, as explained in the article Molecular computers
. This looks reasonable, based on the extreme simplicity of chemlambda reactions. The citizen science part is essential for this step.
(b) Then is is possible to take further Craig Venter’s Digital Biological Converters (which already exist) idea and enhance it to the point of being able to “print” autonomous computing molecules. Which can do anything (amenable to a computation, so literary anything). Anything in the sense that they can do it alone, once printed.
The first step of such an ambitious project is a very modest one: identify the ingredients in real chemistry.
The second step would be to recreate with real chemistry some of the examples which have been already shown as working, such as the factorial
, or the Ackermann function.
Already this second step would be a huge advance over the actual state of the art in molecular computing. Indeed, compare a handful of boolean gates with a functional programming like computation.
If it is, for example, a big deal to build with DNA some simple assemblies of boolean gates, then surely it is a bigger deal to be able to compute the Ackermann function (which is not primitive recursive, like the factorial) as the result of a random chemical process acting on individual molecules.
It looks perfect for a citizen science project, because what is missing is a human distributed search in existing databases, combined with a call for realization of possibly simple proofs of principles chemical experiments based on an existing simple and rigorous formalism.
Once these two steps are realized, then the proof of principle part ends and more practical directions open.
Nobody wants to compute factorials with chemistry, silicon computers are much better for this task. Instead, chemical tiny computers as described here are good for something else.
If you examine what happens in this chemical computation, then you realize that it is in fact a means towards self-building of chemical or geometrical structure at the molecular level. The chemlambda computations are not done by numbers, or bits, but by structure processing. Or this structure processing is the real goal!
Universal structure processing!
In the chemlambda vision page
this is taken even further, towards the interaction with the future Internet of Things.