What can organisms teach the internet?

Research on information networks faces a dead end if it doesn’t become interdisciplinary.

Wakamiya, Naoki

Graduate School of Information Science and Technology
Bio-systems Analysis Lab

Wakamiya, Naoki

Professor Wakamiya has long engaged in research that applies the principles underpinning the expandability, adaptability, durability, and other superior qualities of organisms to information networks. He is working to design new systems that will help resolve “big data” problems.

A starting point for my research: The synchronous illumination of fireflies

I am developing solutions to a range of problems that information networks currently face, and will confront in the future, using mathematical models that reproduce the behavior of living things.

My initial focus was on fireflies. These creatures emit light as individual entities, but when they group together, they are able to synchronize their emissions very successfully, even though they are not being controlled collectively. I thought that by devising a mathematical model that explains this synchronization and operating it on an information network, we could achieve an autonomous, dispersed form of synchronization control. This was the start of my research on information networks inspired by biology.

Our current network is at a critical stage

Created half a century ago, the world’s first computer network consisted of just four computers. Today, however, if we include gaming consoles, there are several billion devices connected, both wired and wirelessly, to a single network. And when the TCP/IP protocol suite that we use to access the internet was first conceived some 30 years ago, there were only a few thousand computers in the whole world. The network itself has thus grown exponentially, beyond what anyone predicted, but it still relies on the same old systems, augmented by new systems added in a makeshift way. This network is habitually unstable. It is not designed to cope with sudden and dramatic growth in scale, diversity, or complexity.

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Living creatures adapt to changes in their environment

Molecules, cells, tissue, organs, entities, groups, ecosystems: Life is composed of small structural components that become interconnected to form complex structures and organizations. Man-made systems are similarly made up of various different components, but they are designed to perform optimally in the conditions under which they are intended to operate. As we can see from the fact that there is life even in deserts and arctic zones, living creatures are highly adaptable to different environments. And despite the fact that each individual organism acts independently based on its own judgments, this independence does not undermine the cohesion of the group, society or system.

I believe that we can apply these kinds of bio-mechanisms to ensure that our massive, complex information networks continue to function into the future without breakdowns. I am convinced that our ability to build the next generation of information networks hinges on interdisciplinary research involving experts in biology and other fields.

Achieving synergies through interdisciplinary research

photo_wakamiya02My graduate school has been encouraging interdisciplinary research linking biology and information science for some time. We have also undertaken many joint research projects with the Center for Information and Neural Networks (CiNet) and other research organs. Information scientists learn from biologists and biologists learn from information scientists, creating synergies that yield advances in both disciplines and reveal possibilities for many practical engineering applications.