Biological Computation: A View from Computer Science

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By Melanie Mitchell, Portland State University

Since the beginning of the computer age, the terms "information processing" and "computing" have been used to describe not only the actions of traditional, "von-Neumann-style" computers, but also the dynamics of biological systems, ranging from the brain to the immune system, cellular metabolism, and genetic regulation. It is becoming increasingly clear that, given the "non-von-Neumann" architectural features of these natural systems -- large and varying numbers of relatively simple, stochastic, and noisy components, limited, dynamic, and unreliable connections, and no central control -- these systems require a radically different model of information processing than the traditional one.
In this brief talk I will frame the problem of developing such a model by proposing several questions that I believe must be answered if a system is to be usefully described as "computing" or "processing information".

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