Sunday, April 24, 2011

BYBS: Blood Music

One of my favorite books of all time has to be Greg Bear's Blood Music.  It's about a guy who creates computers using cells, observing that cells have all the parts you would need to make a computer: DNA could be used as storage, various organelles could be used as processor parts, etc.  The cells can infect people and, well, that's what the book is about.

This is one of the books that got me interested in biology.  Since the book blends the worlds of biology and my own field of computers, it made for a very interesting read.

The book's premise seems pretty plausible to me.  The thing is that I think cells already do act as computers, it's just that survival is a difficult enough problem that they normally exhibit intelligence in the way that human beings think of it.  Being able to calculate a square root, for example, is not very useful to a paramecium, but being able to tell your flagella to move you towards something you can eat is.

The thing you have to remember is that the paramecium is doing this with only one cell.  There is no huge network of neurons that allow it to think and reason the way we do.  Being able to survive, find food, fend off viruses, etc. is quite a feat for a computer that small, but it just doesn't seem that way because we take such things for granted.

If there's a problem with the book, it's that it seems like there are two big "parts" to it.  One of them is about the nifty idea of making a single celled computer and the other is a notion that there is a limit to the amount of consciousness that can occupy a particular location.  I thought the first part was by far the more interesting, while the second was kind of meh.

Personally, I thought it would have worked better with just the first part as a novella or a short story, but your mileage may vary.

1 comment:

Tanis said...

I'll have to take a peek, sounds interesting :)