I am always fascinated by the cross-over from biology into electronics, hardware, software, and architecture. Nature has given us a nearly unlimited set of patterns and structures that are resilient, clever, fast, light, and adaptable. It is up to us to find them and learn from them.

For example, Australian Defence scientists are studying the swarming algorithms of insects and then writing code to emulate that ability that will be able to control their unmanned vehicles. They will give the swarm a goal, but not specific instructions as to where to go to achieve the goal. The swarm will use its own dumb intelligence to adapt to the environment and react to barriers or problems encountered in trying to reach the goal.

Steven Johnson wrote a lot about the emergent properties of simple systems in his excellent book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. If you have any interest in this area, it is a very enjoyable read.

Michael Crichton wrote a book recently called Prey which was a pretty poorly written nightmare scenario about swarming nano-bots that turned on and attacked their makers. As usual, the science in the book was interesting, but the writing was flat and uninspired. I would give it a 2/5. Don’t pay more than a couple of dollars for this one – it has suffered the ignominious fate of showing up in super-market clearance bins.