The theory of fungi being used as computing devices
Even though quantum computers are all the rage nowadays, there are many researchers around the world who are investigating the possibility of using an odd biological component in order to make computations: fungi.
That’s right. As weird as that may sound, there are some types of fungi which can do some incredible and very helpful stuff, thanks to the way their bodies and chemistry react with their environment. Let’s see how that works.
Have you ever seen this video?
This research is quite old, you can find footage from 2011 on YouTube. In it, a group of researchers used slime mold that’s commonly found in nature in order to test its abilities at finding paths through mazes and figuring out the best paths to multiple nodes in multiple locations, essentially improving the Tokyo highway system that way.
Bear in mind: the slime mold doesn’t have a brain. However, as its life depends on its ability to search for food and on successfully feeding all of its different parts, it of course evolved to do so the most efficient way possible, as that means more energy efficiency.
This new biological technology has already been used to enhance the Tokyo transportation system and is bound to receive even more uses in the near future, as well as improve the pathfinding algorithms for conventional computers and GPS.
Fungi-based smart houses
Fungi are incredibly sensitive, and can sense tons of stuff that we can’t. This fact explains a bit how the slime mold works: it can find the best path to food because it is able to sense where exactly it is, as well as possible problems it may find along the way. Even though having the fungi do their own thing can already be quite useful, what if we took advantage of their heightened sensitivities?
Scientists have already been able to tap into the mycelium, the internal information transfer system that fungi use to communicate with their many different parts (in this case called “fruits”, that is, the mushroom parts). The mycelia use a complex language composed of very faint electrical signals which spread through it warning its different parts of possible dangers and identifying possible food sources.
Even though it is so faint and complex, not only have scientists been able to detect those signals very reliably, they have also already decoded their language.
Now, what could we possibly use such a system in our daily lives? Well, as a very smart house. Scientists are investigating the possibility of using mycelium as a sensor system for houses. This, combined with other smart house technologies such as machine learning, would allow us to get an extremely complete, cheap, and self-healing sensor system, capable of detecting what neither we nor our machines are able to, backed by a robust machine learning AI.
For some time now smartwatches have become the favorite tool for fitness enthusiasts and for people that have some chronic illnesses. That is not because of it being a watch, but for it being smart: most smartwatches today come with tools to monitor vital signs, and are very helpful to remind you of important times in a day, such as when you need to take your medicines.
Current smartwatches are already very helpful with their tracking of heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, but what if they could do even more?
While mycelium is not as fast as silicon, it is much more sensitive, and would therefore be able to track many other different signals from people, in a completely non-invasive way, from substances in our sweat to those in our breath.
Even more to come
Could we use the mycelium itself for computations? How about using it to make more accurate and encompassing meteorological systems? The possibilities are endless, and we are bound to hear much more about this technology in the near future, and maybe see it enter our lives in a short time!