"Inspired by immunity," by Erica Klarreich. Nature, 31 January 2002.
Klarreich begins by noting "computer science has a healthy tradition of stealing nature's good ideas." Sure enough, computer scientists in this new field are mimicking some of the functions of the immune system for applications in fraud detection and computer security. Jonathan Timmis of the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, has devised programs that apply attributes of immunity to pattern-recognition problems. Two main attributes of the immune system are its capacity to recognize and retain the "memory" of a pathogen (and reactivate when that pathogen attacks again---that's how vaccinations work), and, its "skill in coordinating huge numbers of autonomous cells to create complex responses without a central organizing body." This latter attribute provides an ideal model for robotics projects that might clear minefields, carry out search-and-rescue missions, or chart unexplored territory, propose Scott Thayer and Surya Singh of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
--- Annette Emerson