Amoeba Can Solve TSP

Amoeba Can Solve TSP
A famous challenge in computer science is called “The Traveling Salesman Problem,” or TSP for sort. Scientists in Tokyo have found that a one-celled amoeba can solve TSP.

The problem goes like this:
Suppose you are a traveling salesperson going from city to city to sell your goods. You want to maximize your efficiency to make as much money in as little time as possible. You want to find the shortest path that will let you hit every city on your route one time and return you to the starting point.

There is no simple mathematical formula to find the best route. The only way to solve the problem is to calculate the length of each possible route and see which is the shortest. The problem gets exponentially harder as more cities are added to the route. With four cities there are only three different routes to consider, but with six cities there are 360 different routes. If you had ten cities or more, the number of routes could be in the millions. With an increase in the number of cities, the number of routes increases logarithmically.

The traveling salesman problem is one of a broad class of problems computer scientists call “NP-hard.” (NP stands for nondeterministic polynomial time. People involved in hacking encrypted systems and mining cryptocurrency are interested in this sort of problem.)

At Keio University in Tokyo, scientists have discovered that an amoeba can solve TSP, with the help of some human ingenuity. They used a single-cell slime mold amoeba known as Physarum polycephalum which moves toward food and away from light. The scientists built a chamber filled with channels and placed some food at the end of each channel. The channels represent a city on the salesman’s route. The amoeba would extend tendrils into the channels to get the food. As it reached the food, a light would go on in that channel so that the amoeba would not go back to the same “city.”

The advantage is that that the amoeba doesn’t have to calculate every individual path as most computer algorithms do. Instead, the amoeba just reacts passively to the conditions and figures out the best possible arrangement by itself. What this means is that for the amoeba, adding more cities (channels) only increases the time linearly rather than logarithmically.

The lead study author Masashi Aono said, “The mechanism by which the amoeba maintains the quality of the approximate solution, that is, the short route length, remains a mystery.” If researchers can figure out how the amoeba can solve TSP, it could speed up our ability to solve all kinds of challenging computational problems.

This design feature in one of God’s simplest creatures is another demonstration of how we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-23).
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2019

Reference- https://www.sciencealert.com/an-amoeba-has-solved-an-exponentially-complex-problem-in-linear-time

Talking with the Dead

Man Meets Robot
Man Meets Robot

Researchers at the University of Minnesota say that they will soon be making voice simulations of someone so close to the actual person that they will “be able to accurately imitate those who have died.” The claim is that “we will be able to continue to interact with them as if they continued to live.” There is a test called the Turing Test which allows researchers to tell whether a response is from a human or a machine. Some of the simulations have passed the Turing test. In other words, you could be talking to a simulation of your father who died ten years ago, and you would not be able to tell that you were talking to a computer. Family history, mannerisms, voice inflections, patterns of choices can all be built into the computer simulation.

In an article by Muhammad Ahmad from the Minnesota department of computer science in Saturday Evening Post (March/April 2017 page 10), a shocking question was asked. The question was, “Would such a system have a soul?” Ahmad responded that his work would allow experiences OF a deceased person, not experiences WITH the deceased. Ahmad says that “in the future, you would still be able to spend time laughing and reminiscing with a simulation so similar to your loved one that it would be difficult to tell the two apart.

The things that make us truly human will never be possible in a simulation. A simulation can revisit a memory from the past. Past events, mannerisms, and patterns of choice can be built into the simulation. However, there will not be creative expression in art and music, spontaneous acts of worship, feelings of guilt and sympathy, and an agape type of love. I have spent hours watching videos of my wife of 49 years and my children as babies and toddlers and teenagers. It has been a rich experience. I have recordings of my deceased mother and of my kids’ school events. Those are good memories, but even better is having the comfort of knowing that God is now caring for my loved ones and that in the future there is the hope of something far better than the best memories I have of the past.
–John N. Clayton © 2017