Design micro to macro

There are some interesting parallels between the ideas in Janine Benyus’s book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature and Richard Gabriel’s recent essay “Design Beyond Human Abilities” (big PDF).

Biomimicry is a survey of solutions the natural world has come up with to solve problems. Everything from spider webs to photosynthesis to the way chimps medicate themselves in the wild is covered. The end chapter takes a look at what we could learn from nature and apply to various industrial processes. After all nature works at room temperature, gets power from the sun and generates no harmful by-products.

Gabriel’s essay takes a look what it would take to build Ultra Large Scale Systems, which he defines as something impossible to build because of today’s software engineering technology. For impossible, substitute “trillions of lines of code, millions of computers, real time requirements with life critical applications.” His essay spins off on a number of fascinating tangents and brushes upon the natural world, both from a civic planning and a biology perspective.

So from Biomimicry, we see an end result (e.g. oyster nacre, incredibly strong, stronger than man-made composites, safe) without really knowing how to recreate and apply it. And in Gabriel’s essay, he makes a good case for extending the Biomimicry lessons and applying them to these ultra large scale systems as well. What are the technical analogs to “room temperature, sunlight, water and no harmful by-products” for ultra scale system design?

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