nhaliday + circuits   16

Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata - John von Neumann

Comparisons between computing machines and the nervous systems. Estimates of size for computing machines, present and near future.

Estimates for size for the human central nervous system. Excursus about the “mixed” character of living organisms. Analog and digital elements. Observations about the “mixed” character of all componentry, artificial as well as natural. Interpretation of the position to be taken with respect to these.

Evaluation of the discrepancy in size between artificial and natural automata. Interpretation of this discrepancy in terms of physical factors. Nature of the materials used.

The probability of the presence of other intellectual factors. The role of complication and the theoretical penetration that it requires.

Questions of reliability and errors reconsidered. Probability of individual errors and length of procedure. Typical lengths of procedure for computing machines and for living organisms--that is, for artificial and for natural automata. Upper limits on acceptable probability of error in individual operations. Compensation by checking and self-correcting features.

Differences of principle in the way in which errors are dealt with in artificial and in natural automata. The “single error” principle in artificial automata. Crudeness of our approach in this case, due to the lack of adequate theory. More sophisticated treatment of this problem in natural automata: The role of the autonomy of parts. Connections between this autonomy and evolution.

- 10^10 neurons in brain, 10^4 vacuum tubes in largest computer at time
- machines faster: 5 ms from neuron potential to neuron potential, 10^-3 ms for vacuum tubes

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april 2018 by nhaliday
What are the Laws of Biology?
The core finding of systems biology is that only a very small subset of possible network motifs is actually used and that these motifs recur in all kinds of different systems, from transcriptional to biochemical to neural networks. This is because only those arrangements of interactions effectively perform some useful operation, which underlies some necessary function at a cellular or organismal level. There are different arrangements for input summation, input comparison, integration over time, high-pass or low-pass filtering, negative auto-regulation, coincidence detection, periodic oscillation, bistability, rapid onset response, rapid offset response, turning a graded signal into a sharp pulse or boundary, and so on, and so on.

These are all familiar concepts and designs in engineering and computing, with well-known properties. In living organisms there is one other general property that the designs must satisfy: robustness. They have to work with noisy components, at a scale that’s highly susceptible to thermal noise and environmental perturbations. Of the subset of designs that perform some operation, only a much smaller subset will do it robustly enough to be useful in a living organism. That is, they can still perform their particular functions in the face of noisy or fluctuating inputs or variation in the number of components constituting the elements of the network itself.
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november 2017 by nhaliday

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