Marcin Rządeczka (UMCS)
Silicon-free computing. Do the advances in biological computing and the bioinformatics redefine the classical problems of the philosophy of computer science?

Biological computing is a relatively new interdisciplinary field of research combining a variety of scientific disciplines, such as molecular and cell biology, genetics and genomics, synthetic biology, bio-engineering, biomathematics and computer science. This newly fledged discipline attempts to utilize biological structures of varying complexity to create a series of organic logical gates able to perform different types of computation.

At the molecular level, recently developed ribocomputers, which are specially pre-programmed strands of RNA introduced to host cell by means of plasmids, can survive inside Escherichia coli bacterium and successfully respond to selected environmental stimuli. These biological devices form organic circuits equivalent to transistors in electrical engineering and, just like silicone-based circuits, are fully customizable in terms of the program they are designed to execute. At the cellular level, different cell populations organized inside a man-made 3D model instantiate a computational unit communicating with other units by means of cell signaling cascade.

In the near future, biological computing can possibly redefine a series of core issues related to the philosophy of computer science, ranging from the notion of technical artifact, which is quite frequently narrowed down to inorganic devices only, through various intricacies related to the delineation of hardware-software demarcation line, to the philosophical dilemmas about human-computer integration. With the exception of medically justified cases, humans tend to find the voluntary introduction of microcomputers inside their bodies rather repulsive, which is fully understandable from the common-sense point of view, where computer is perceived as a foreign body, i.e. something completely devoid of life and radically different from any human tissue. But does this intuition holds when computers are just a part of normal cell machinery?

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