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How Nature Inspires Technology

/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/nature_190369.jpgBiomimicry is a “conscious emulation of life’s genius.” Nature has already perfected designs that can solve human problems. Mirroring Nature’s designs inspires extraordinary technologies that enhance our world. Innovation is rich with biomimicry. Observing pigeons in flight inspired the Wright Brothers to build an airplane.

Information technologies also mirror life’s elegant design. Artificial intelligence mirrors how we think and make decisions. Neural networks show how to manage big data from the Internet of Things. Situational awareness borrows ideas from human sensory systems to enhance public safety.

In the Brain Activity Map project, scientists will study how the brain’s billions of neurons create perception, actions and even consciousness.

The 10-year project will advance artificial intelligence and deepen our understanding of how to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism and mental illness. It could “do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.”

Lastly, today’s software includes self-healing like in our immune system. And cloud computing optimizes efficiency and adaptability — two of Nature’s key design principles.

Nature is efficient in how living things self-assemble. Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Institute describes how seashells form layers of mineral and polymer from seawater. Mother-of-pearl is actually stronger than high tech ceramics, which are used in biomedical implants. Material science benefits greatly from biomimicry.

Living things also use their shape or structure to enable function. A lotus leaf has troughs to self-clean in the rain. And living things are resilient and self-renewing. They adapt to changes in their ecosystem to flourish and create more opportunities for life. Efficiency and adaptability are two of Nature’s design principles that make cloud computing a “living system” too.

Like Nature, cloud infrastructure self-assembles. Server, storage and network resources are combined according to rules and then adapt as per demand. Pools of resources ensure high availability and disaster recovery, like Nature’s resilience and self-renewal.

Cloud is also driving evolutionary change in its components, like server microvisors for stronger security, low cost Flash storage for large data sets and energy-saving chips. Finally, cloud computing’s form determines its function. Depending upon how an application is combined with elastic infrastructure, the function of the cloud service could change from Infrastructure as a Service to Software as a Service. SaaS solves a different problem, even though the underlying infrastructure might remain the same.

It’s fascinating how we can learn from Nature to model technologies that enhance our world.

I believe technology design is so intuitively influenced by living systems today that we don’t recognize it anymore.

And when we consider how populations of ourselves — in our cities — are embracing technologies for broader sustainability, we’re scaling out Nature’s ultimate design principle: how “life creates conditions conducive to life.”

That’s biomimicry.

Follow @JacquelnVanacek for how cloud and big data are reinventing our world. 

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