Creatures from primordial silicon - Let Darwinism loose in an electronics lab and just watch what it creates. A lean, mean machine that nobody understands. Clive Davidson reports
- 15 November 1997
- Magazine issue 2108
"GO!" barks the researcher into the microphone. The oscilloscope in front of him displays a steady green line across the top of its screen. "Stop!" he says and the line immediately drops to the bottom.
Between the microphone and the oscilloscope is an electronic circuit that discriminates between the two words. It puts out 5 volts when it hears "go" and cuts off the signal when it hears "stop".
It is unremarkable that a microprocessor can perform such a task—except in this case. Even though the circuit consists of only a small number of basic components, the researcher, Adrian Thompson, does not know how it works. He can't ask the designer because there wasn't one. Instead, the circuit evolved from a "primordial soup" of silicon components guided by the principles of genetic variation and survival of the fittest.
Thompson's work is not aimless tinkering. His brand of evolution managed to ...