Here is an amazing example of humans piggybacking on a natural phenomenon to create an incredibly clever system: crab-based computing.
A crab-based computer starts with swarms of crabs. These swarms include hundreds of thousands of crabs that, individually, run every which way but that, as a group, progress in one direction. Even more incredible — when two swarms collide, they merge and start moving along the vector of their combined velocity (hellloooo, high school physics!).
So what does this have to do with computing? A team of researchers set up a system where crab behavior would provide the basic logic on which computers work. For instance, a computer might need to take inputs X and Y, and output the result “X or Y” — a 1 if either X or Y is 1, and a 0 otherwise. Crabs can do that:
Okay, that sort of looks like a plumbing diagram showing the progress of hair clots down a pipe, but trust us: When you start with X or Y swarm (or both), the crabs give a Z output. Otherwise, nothing. Just like an “or” function in an electrical circuit!
This is all fun and cool, but also this sort of behavior is incredibly efficient at using energy. Living things have had millions of years to evolve for peak energy efficiency, after all. So the better scientists understand how to harness crab power, the more likely they are to be able to recreate it for our laptops, which will then use less energy and be more awesome. Possibly Apple will ditch its “big cats” theme and start a crustacean-based line of operating systems. I’m holding out for Lobster, personally.
Computers powered by swarms of crabs, New Scientist.