Intelligent Design

Biomimetics again

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Scientists take cues from nature to solve modern tech mysteries
GREG BLUESTEIN
Associated Press
http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/14740340.htm

EXCERPT: On his Web site, William Dembski, a leading activist for the intelligent-design movement, cattily dissected the Georgia Tech center. “Here’s how it works: we find some amazing system in the biological realm, determine how to reverse engineer it, and then design and build a parallel system to serve our needs. But of course, the original system evolved by blind trial-and-error tinkering … To think that it was actually designed because we had to design its human counterpart is just plain stupid.”

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ATLANTA – One of the greatest challenges for robotics engineers is building a machine that actually walks like one of us. Capturing the organized fall that allows humans to get around rather gracefully has, in most cases, come off as – well – rather robotic.

Scientists in the rapidly maturing field of biologically-inspired design believe in turning to organic processes and embracing biological principles to solve such scientific stumpers. They argue that technology can learn much from the world’s most rigorous process: Evolution.

“If you think of organisms as products, all the bad ones have been recalled. Those that have survived evolved over millions of years,” said Marc Weissburg, a biology professor and co-director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design.

Man has always looked to nature for its inspiration, capturing the sun to create fire and copying birds to achieve flight. But in the last 30 years, that tendency has been honed into a scientific field that is enjoying a growing number of devotees.

Two centers dedicated to the field have opened up within the last year, one at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and another at the University of California, Berkeley. And last month, dozens of researchers in the field gathered in Atlanta to share their experiments, in what observers said was an encouraging sign of its coming of age.

A range of projects probing rat whiskers, fish jaws and worm brains made up a Noah’s Ark-sized display of the innovations the field could yield.

“It really captures the imagination to show how much better organisms are at doing things,” Weissburg said. “The natural world doesn’t waste energy, accumulate a large amount of toxins or produce more materials than it uses.”

Weissburg’s pet project shines a blinding green laser into a pool of water to track how a blue crab still manages to scamper down a piece of shrimp in 15 seconds even without its sight.

Fellow professor Hang Lu is delving into the sensors of common worms to learn how to develop sensitive sensors that can one day distinguish smell. Eventually, she said, the technology could be used to track plumes of smoke from miles away and distinguish what is burning.

German scientist Rolf Muller, who teaches at China’s Shandong University, says his investigation of bat ears could improve sonar technology. And Robert Full, a Berkeley researcher, is trying to learn the stability principles that keep six-legged insects, eight-legged crabs and four-legged dogs upright.

The field has enjoyed a few recent popular successes, including cleaning products and paints that try to capture the makeup of Lotus plants that prevents water from sticking to the leaf’s surface, effectively repelling dirt and contaminants.

Velcro, another example, was inspired by burrs that stuck to a dog’s fur after a walk through brush. And the Wright brothers modeled the first working airplane after the structure of a bird’s wings.

While the rehashing of those breakthroughs have become well-known among the scientific community, alarming skeptics who say the relative dearth of discoveries and the staggering cost to develop them isn’t worth the final product.

The field also faces a theological clash with intelligent-design backers who scoff that scientists are revering a system that’s so complex that it had to be engineered by a higher power.

On his Web site, William Dembski, a leading activist for the intelligent-design movement, cattily dissected the Georgia Tech center.

“Here’s how it works: we find some amazing system in the biological realm, determine how to reverse engineer it, and then design and build a parallel system to serve our needs. But of course, the original system evolved by blind trial-and-error tinkering … To think that it was actually designed because we had to design its human counterpart is just plain stupid.”

Scientists in the field say that recent advances will lead to new discoveries that will far outweigh any concerns.

“Anytime a new research field emerges, it takes a while to put the basic building blocks together. It’s just a matter of time. We’re getting there,” said S.K. Gupta, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Maryland who teaches a bio-inspired robotics course for college seniors.

“If you think about true biology, sensing and actuation are working at a really, really small scale,” he said. “Thirty years ago we weren’t able to construct anything at the micro scale. I think recent advances that are taking place in the area of micro-fabrication will help us tremendously.”

Research could one day unlock the mysteries of the incredible tensile strength of spider silk, the way organisms propel themselves through water and air so much more efficiently than vehicles, and how the fluids secreted by marine organisms have greater bonding strength than any glue humans have produced.

Even the smallest creatures, like the burrs that spurred Velcro, could hold a compelling secret.

“Every organism is designed to solve a problem,” Weissburg said.

17 Replies to “Biomimetics again

  1. 1
    Scott says:

    The field also faces a theological clash with intelligent-design backers who scoff that scientists are revering a system that’s so complex that it had to be engineered by a higher power.

    Don’t ya love this recurring strawman that gets reinforced over and over again. Watch closely Mr. Bluestein – Intelligent Design seeks to distinguish design by intelligent causation from natural processes. It cannot identify the designer. The identity of the designer is a second-order philosophical issue which philosophers and Theologians must debate. Science cannot deal with second-order philosophical questions. ID is not theological. I don’t know if you’re ignorant of this fact, or if you are deliberately misrepresenting ID because of a philosophical commitment of your own.

    And we “scoff” because we are confident that blind, natural mechanisms cannot generate specified complexity and digital code like that which we observe inside the cell. Victorian creation myths like Darwin’s, simply won’t do anymore. Science has moved forward. We have new data. Let’s not let a philosophical commitment to materialism restrict us from following the evidence wherever it leads.

    The burden lies with the Darwinist to demonstrate how specified complexity in biological systems can be purchased sans a designing intelligence. Hand-waving-just so stories will not be accepted.

    “Got that? Write that down.” – JA Davison

  2. 2
    tribune7 says:

    What’s was that thread earlier — first the ignore, then they laugh, then we win?

    Well, AP reporters are reading this website, and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of laughing. Victory is imminent 🙂

    I liked the Noah’s Ark reference too.

  3. 3

    In the newspaper article

    “If you think of organisms as products, all the bad ones have been recalled. Those that have survived evolved over millions of years,” said Marc Weissburg, a biology professor and co-director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design.

    Weissburg’s appeal is to a neo-Darwinian theory. His appeal will make good sense to other comitted to this explanation. It is a reasoned explanation. Suppose it is roughly true. Imagine the tree of life growing, pushing onwards in time, producing all kinds of experiments generated by random mutations or whatever processes generates change in germ line genomes. The experimental products survive at least long enough to breed to a next generation of experimental product. Look around. Look back in biological history. There will be, according to this Weissburg’s model, a plethora of experimental life forms. No experiment left behind. I’m still looking around. Does anyone else see the experiments? Has the long walk of genomes through time left traces or indications of developmental pathways?

    Sure, we understand the neo-Darwinian theory and agree mutations occur and fitness selection operates. When claiming that these processes account for all biological novelty we look for confirming evidence. Not finding sufficiently deep evidence its proper to backtrack and ask what other explanations are on offer.

    Neo-Darwinism should motivate design factories specialising in its two main principles: novely-grneration and filtering of unwanted product. Design friendly product development motivates reverse engineering into biological processes. We want to understand how the program like genome operates so we can manage ethically and morally, further product development. Design friendly biology needs more understanding of the genome program.

  4. 4
    Smidlee says:

    the comment “.. be engineered by a higher power” doesn’t really identify the designer either nor does it always refer to God. An “higher power” could be anything which is why groups like the AA uses it.

  5. 5
    bFast says:

    “Every organism is designed to solve a problem,” Weissburg said.

    Dr. Weissburg, repeat after me: It wasn’t designed, it wasn’t designed, it wasn’t designed …

  6. 6
    crandaddy says:

    “Dr. Weissburg, repeat after me: It wasn’t designed, it wasn’t designed, it wasn’t designed …”

    :lol:!!!

    BTW, I’m not one to beat my chest and gloat victoriously when someone does not answer a direct question of mine (I find such behavior boorish.), but I am left to wonder why Dr. Weissburg never responded to what I asked him.

  7. 7

    The Cookie Jar

    The only argument that would bring a metholological naturalist to heel is an iron clad claim of ownership of life on earth. If such a copyright could be legally stated, ALL paws in the ‘cookie jar’ could be pried away via prosecution. Cookies would include all genomic and biological material.

    If ID can prove beyond reasonable doubt that there must exist such an owner, would said owner’s identity have any bearing on this claim?

    The real issue here is whether genetic code and its biological expressions are public or private domain. Proof of an orginal designer would make it private domain, and the cookie jar snaps shut.

    Has any person ever made such a claim of ownership? Where does the burden of proof rest?

  8. 8

    The Purloined Letter(s)

    Just to sum up some of the personal progress I have made in contributing to this site, I would like to pose just one question. It is not really off topic since it would affect patent claims based on biomimetics.

    Is RM+NS itself the reasonable proof of Intelligent Design that would close the Cookie Jar?

    The possible irony is very compelling, and would keep me in gigglefits for life.

  9. 9
    Emkay says:

    “Every organism is designed to solve a problem,” Weissburg said.

    Now they see it, then they quickly snap their blinders back on. And so lurches on the not-so-elegant, two-step Darwinian Blind Man’s Bluff.

  10. 10
    bFast says:

    Collin DuCrane: “Is RM+NS itself the reasonable proof of Intelligent Design that would close the Cookie Jar?”

    What exactly do you mean? Are you suggesting that if RM+NS gets dethroned, is no longer accepted as an explanation, the only alternative is Intelligent Design, or are you suggesting something else?

  11. 11

    If I bring in a little outside disciplines here…

    The materialist doesn’t really believe his materialism. He is like a mother who defends her wrotten child. She consciously believes her kid is wonderful and can do no wrong. When the principal calls and tells her her son has been stealing, she says “no, my son is wonderful.”

    But you notice that she won’t leave her purse alone in a room with her son.

    That is what the materialist is like. Every so often, the truth of what they subconsciously know sneaks out.

    “It’s not designed. It’s not designed.” They not only deceive they self-deceive.

  12. 12
    Mung says:

    Speaking of biomemetics. I am in a discussion over at ARN in which a sceptic observed that Paley’s watch analogy is illegitimate because watches don’t reproduce. I don’t really buy that, but what I proposed was a watch that contained within itself a factory for making watches, with each watch so manufactured also containing a factory for making watches. The person scoffed at the idea but could not say it could not be done, but asked for a model. I think it would be easy to created a model in software of a component that contained within itself a factory for creating components each of which also contains a component creation factory.

    Does that sound reasonable to those of you who are software guys? Isn’t there a factory pattern, factory method, etc. And can’t one use composition to encapsulate a factory within a component? Anyone feel like working on this?

    Of course, what I pointed out about the watch was, if we did find a watch that contained a factory for creating watches, we would claim it evolved rather than it was designed, lol.

  13. 13
    bFast says:

    Mung, “Does that sound reasonable to those of you who are software guys?”
    We do it all the time, well some of us. They are called viruses.
    Yes, self-replicating computer programs have been around, not always maliciously, certainly since before the IBM pc.

  14. 14
    antg says:

    One of the greatest challenges for robotics engineers is building a machine that actually walks like one of us. Capturing the organized fall that allows humans to get around rather gracefully has, in most cases, come off as – well – rather robotic.

    Made me think of this straight away: the Robot Dance

    http://football.guardian.co.uk.....eedstory/0,,-5865754,00.html

    If you can’t make robots more like humans, make the humans more like robots!!

  15. 15
    jacktone says:

    Mung, it’s a von Neumann machine (John von Neumann, 1903-1957). Any machine that could reproduce itself would be so complex it would break down. Therefore it would also have to be self-repairing.

  16. 16
    bFast says:

    Jacktone, “Any machine that could reproduce itself would be so complex it would break down. Therefore it would also have to be self-repairing.”
    I agree, to make a self-reproducing mechanical machine is an ominous task. Such a machine would have to be self-repairing, just like all living organisms.

  17. 17
    Michaels7 says:

    Crandaddy, read your comment to Weissburg. To bad he did not respond. I read his initial statement again and his last line stands out.

    “This is evolution in action, and we would be foolish not to seek to understand these principles and incorporate them into human-built systems.”

    What principles? “Evolution in action” or Design? He’s in the ultimate Catch-22. He’s not unlocking Evolution. He’s unlocking Design. If he was truly unlocking Evolution he could reverse engineer it and produce De-evolution. He could reverse the Arrow of Time.

    Instead, what we have today for example is a scientist creating a bladder in 40 days for surgical implantation based off a few cells(7 months shorter than typical human production) and researching efforts to do this for more organs. Speeding up the process, not reversing it. This is a result of the Arrow of Time and exponential increase of information.

    As to incorporating them into human-built systems – no one argues that point and for him to make such a comment in a Design forum is humorous. He has only better qualified the ID argument.

    The argument that evolution manufactured the end result of spider silk or the nano-scale optical disc on a butterfly wing is nonsense now that we view them on nano-scale levels. We are looking at tech marvels that we are only just now starting to replicate.

    Finally – you cannot reverse engineer a non-engineered process.

    Debeers is all choked up due to the reverse engineering of diamonds. They’re going to try and prove their diamonds are natural, therefore unique and worthy of a higher price of course. Now this is funny. This goes opposite of the GeneticID approach.

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