In the eyes of a few researchers, the secrets to breakthroughs in distributed computing lies in the nervous system of the fruit fly. And new, performance-improving algorithms based around these findings could help to better detect earthquakes or cure disease.
With distributed computing, there are a select number of processors or sensors that issue commands, and the rest of the computers in the network fall in line. Similar to distributed computing and wireless sensor networks, a certain number of cells in a fruit fly’s central nervous system take on leadership roles, handing down commands to the rest of the cells. The differences between the computer networks and the fruit flies comes down to the method in which processors or cells become leaders.
With the networks, the probability of the sensors/processors taking on a leadership role increases as it makes more connections with other sensors, thereby exchanging information. With the fruit fly nervous system, cells will evolve into a leadership role and emit a chemical preventing the surrounding cells from doing the same. In this case, the probability decreases over time. Understanding this fundamental difference, scientists at Carniegie-Mellon University and Tel Aviv University created a new algorithm for computer networks that determined which computers would issue commands, based around the fruit fly research.
As a result of using their early mathematical models, these scientists found an increase in speed when it came to program runtimes. But what does this mean for the average person? Well it could mean faster, more accurate web search results. It could mean better software for decoding genomes, curing rare illnesses, or finding distant planets. Hell, maybe we’ll finally figure out a pattern in Pi. [Kurzweil]