I call it a triad because it's made out of three parts.
All living things think, in the sense of processing information. A dragonfly, which is a sort of flying jewel if you've never seen one, is at the same time a thinking machine. It has some immense eyes, made out of thousands of faces in which there stands, overturned, the entire world ; and four wings that carry it in flight at great speed and with great precision. From a theoretical perspective, an iPhone camera (8 megapixels)ii even should it work true color and doing a 200 frames per second would be a poor approximation of the dragonfly's eye.iii Now let's multiply : 8 × 10 ^ 6 × 3 × 200 ≈ 5 GBps. I have no idea if you know what a processor for geometric hashing, let's say, that can do 5GBps costs, because rocket interception systems can't afford it, but that aside let me assure you it will draw some wattage. And now, if there's thousands of such cameras in the eyes of the dragonfly, looky that the 20 gram being expends just enough energy to carry its own hydro power plant, in case you recall that old joke with the watch and the suitcases.
We are not currently able to produce an artificial dragonfly for the simple reason that we can't reproduce its brain, that thing going through frames with such a devilish speed it renders the whole assemblage capable of catching mosquitoes in flight. Try this, by the way, catch mosquitoes while they fly around you, with your feet solidly anchored on the floor. From what I've seen, the average Joe manages in about a case of ten. With a little training you can do it with one hand, I manage about 60% of the time. Imagine you were doing this while flying through the room at a speed roughly equal to a hundred of your body lengths. Each second. It's pure fantasy, we can't think as fast as the dragonfly, and here's the kicker : it uses just about two calories to do all this. Two calories a day. One tic-tac.
If you're a Bitcoin miner, your eyes are probably lighting up already : there's a video card somewhere doing 5GBps x n at 750 Joules per day ? Why that's much better than current miners! You could have millions of these things, just imagine, millions upon millions of matchboxes with little dragonfly brains within, hashing happily away. Why, you'd need over 100`000 of these just to fill up 1KW of power.
Pity it doesn't hash, huh. Maybe one day it will, and when that day comes it will definitely blow any current ASICs off the market, because even if it turns out it's not a billion trillion times as efficient per Watt as the theoretical maximum seems to indicate (likely because we won't be good enough to make it, at least originally), it doesn't have to be. 100x, 10x, even 2x is certainly good enough. If only it hashed...
So that was my closer to the audience, that while the clueless keep droning on about quantum computers, I don't personally believe that has any relevance, or will, during our lifetimes. Biological computers however most likely will.
Part two is a speech Stan gave at the same conference, which I'll reproduce from memory and he's welcome to write it out in more fleshy details if need be.
So, FPGAs, which are fundamentally processor simulators, used to be able to take absolutely any wiring. Current ones do no longer, you can easily fry the thing by connecting wrong dots, but at some point a few decades ago you were still able to buy XC6216, the one and only known FPGA where random wiring was guaranteed -never- to release the magic smoke (and also the only Xilinx chip that was properly documented).
The application of this is, among many things, genetically evolved processors, that are "grown" much in the way nature selects species, towards certain specified tasks. The kicker being that while they're perfectly capable of doing weird shit like using the power as a computing element, they're also (at least in principle) perfectly capable of becoming geographically fixed. Such that the chip will cease working if you extinguish the candle that used to burn on its side when it was born, or if you take it to a different longitude (latitudes are ok) or any other arbitrary environmental influence like that. Exactly in the manner that penguins don't grow in the Sahara nor orchids in Norway (unless, of course, you spend resources on recreating the required environmental variables, and know what those are supposed to be, even).
His closing at the conference was that this would make for wonderful things such as a miner that can't be stolen, because it only works in your garage anyway. It's an interesting topic I thought, you should bug him for further ellaborations, I disclaim any liability.
Which now takes us to the third part of our triad :
Suppose you're me, and suppose you jump out of bed with a very clear question for the chan that makes you about 15 IQ points smarter : what's the smallest set of symbols that still maintains Turing completeness, I don't care what language ? This is the bane of sleep, see, you need to wake up to realise that... well... 0 and 1 right ? Duh.
But once up, while the realisation that 0 and 1 bubbles through your consciousness, another thread in your head - the one that's woken you up in fact, the one that had been going ever since Stan passingly mentioned the god damned genetically evolved boards - points out that... well... you know how real live beings' genetics work, right ? You get two strands of DNA. Two, not one. Two.
So then the correct approach to this problem is to use two boards, not one. Two. And see if they work. And this should be model-able, after all computing is computing. So what'd your criteria of success be ? Well... if your two programs are A and B, and the program fixed length is n, then for every i, 0 < i < n you have to check whether Ai or Bi works. Because that's how fucking genetics work.
So this is then.... 2n isn't it. For a program as long as a current computer register, you'd need 18`446`744`073`709`551`616 tries.
God damn it.
The moral being the complexity of life, of course. Human DNA is about... wait for it... 3 bn pairs per chromosome. Not 64 fucken bits. And yet it explores the space of 23`000`000`000 in real time. Just like the blasted dragonfly can see mosquitoes in flight while going faster than you drive.
Life. Too fucking much, already.———
- Incidentally : my advantage in having been keeping this blog for years is directly evident in person. I can entertain any audience composed of smart people indefinitely, by simply recycling material that's still left in my head from all the articles I've written in the past. It wouldn't work so well if they had all read it, of course, but check out inadvertent strategic superiority : I wrote most of it in an obscure language! [↩]
- This is why I say theoretical. Given the sensor face and our current technology, many hard physical limits make the claimed value impossible, such as photon starvation. This is why the animal's eyes are shaped like the outside of a cherry, incidentally, rather than a concave surface. [↩]
- If you think about it, 100 Km/h comes to about 30 meters a second, and that would imply 200 FPS yields it one frame every 15 cm (4 inches). Meanwhile you walking is 10 Km/h, and your eye gets 20 FPS, so about the same. You're (obviously) not nearly as good as a dragonfly. [↩]