The Thorny Devil drinks with its skin. The Gila Monster stores fat for survival. The Dorcas Gazelle doesn’t have to drink or urinate. Antarctic fish have antifreeze proteins in their blood. What do all of these diverse animals have in common? They adapted to their extreme environment in order to survive. Now, what do these animals have in common with computer science? A lot, surprisingly. In fact, there is a new breed of computer scientists that are looking to animals that have uniquely adapted to their environment in order to develop software algorithms. However, the recent rise in animal extinction is hindering this new area of computer science research.

What Kind of Beast is an Algorithm?

An algorithm is a self contained set of step by step operations that are performed by a computer. Algorithms are mainly used to solve complex or tedious problems. A basic example of this computer concept would be a linear search or a bubble sort algorithm. These types of algorithms are used in applications you use every day, like Amazon or Google. You might be asking yourself, why are computer scientists interested in weird animals in far off places? Much like an algorithm, these animals have found an efficient way to solve a problem.

Animals are the Worlds Great Problem Solvers

Algorithms describe, in a contained series of steps, how to solve a problem. Some animals in nature have found a way to do the same thing in order to survive. The strength of these strategies, and the ability of the animal to develop, them holds the key to their survival. One could argue that all living things need to solve problems to survive. It may be something simple such as how to attack prey. However, if an animal finds itself living in a hostile environment, it might have to solve more complicated problems. The ability of an organism to effectively solve problems, ensure that their lineage will continue on. If said creature is able to find a way to more effectively solve a problem than a different animal, it is more likely that they will have offspring. This concept is also known as natural selection. 

Time Marches on … and Creates Some Weird Animals

You can imagine the kinds of animals Mother Nature can conjure after millions of years of adapting these problem solving strategies. Tubeworms can turn toxic water into food. The ET Salamander doesn’t have any lungs, but absorbs oxygen through the air. The list goes on and on. These diverse ways to adapt to environments can be translated into computer algorithms. These algorithms have been fine tuned through trial and error, and are applicable in a variety of situations. Computer scientists want to study these plants and animals to derive their “algorithm to their respective problems. Essentially, they would take a problem from the real world and try to find something similar in the animal kingdom.

Computer Scientists Turned Nature Scouts

Computer scientists are now looking to these algorithms of nature to create new solutions to problems in engineering. When engineers integrate biology into computer science, they create more efficient and adaptive products. For example, one can look to the root structure of plants to find inspiration for building a transportation system. Plants design their root networks based on how quickly they can distribute nutrients and water to the rest of the plant. Much like a subway system, this design rests on efficiency. There is a balance between speed of transportation, and the cost of building the network. Computer scientists want to study the algorithms that plants use in order to build these networks. They believe that it could unearth better strategies in transportation systems. That’s only one example of the power of Mother Natures algorithms.

In conclusion, animal extinction has many more consequences than we once thought. Despite the efforts of countless organizations, many species are still dying out at an alarming rate. Computer scientists have no other real world source for the unique problem solving skills some species can offer. Species preservation would be in the best interest to all of society, considering how algorithms affect our daily lives. Every time a creature becomes extinct we are losing another algorithm. Essentially, we are losing another solution to a real world problem in society.

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