Biopoiesis

Biopoiesis
Biopoiesis is a series of experiments exploring the relationships between structure, matter, and self-organization, with a goal toward the development of autonomous computation and control systems in what can be described as a computational "primordial soup". It is based on the work of cyberneticist Gordon Pask and his research into electrochemical control systems that had the ability to adaptively construct their own sensitivities to environmental information. This series of DPrime projects explores the interactive and computational possibilities of natural processes that might serve as an alternative to the more commonplace digital forms of computation.
The project features the construction of simple computational devices that each harness an electrochemical reaction. Information (an electrical signal) is passed through electrodes to a tank filled with a metallic salt solution (e.g., stannous chloride). The resultant electrochemical reaction grows into dendritic metallic threads - ultimately leading to the formation of a continuously shifting signal network (not unlike a neuronal cell assembly). These dendrites are fluid and unstable: they bifurcate and dissipate in unpredictable ways, leading to resistance changes that modify the flow of information through the network. If a subset of electrodes in the electrochemical solution receives input from an environmental sensor, and the electrochemical output can affect that sensor, then the network will move towards a dynamic equilibrium with its environment. Furthermore, the system can be trained by "rewarding" certain conductance changes produced in response to particular environmental perturbations.
Biopoiesis system diagram
Biopoiesis network architecture

The computational approach taken in this research can be employed in countless ways and with many different media. For example, dendritic growth and dissipation patterns might be applied to the transformation of vertex data in computer graphics or gesture recognition in video tracking. The re-patchable nature of the project also allows one to explore the adaptive possibilities of natural processes while the malleable nature of the medium allows for the exploration of virtually unbounded search spaces and implementation of opened-ended evolutionary designs.