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Implications of this research

It is clear that the integration of vast numbers of inexpenisve computational and communication elements, sensors, and actuators can revolutionize the design of physical systems. The research plan outlined here will yield three classes of results that are essential in realizing this potential.

  1. Means to amass and coordinate computing agents at prices comparable to the raw material costs. It has long been recognized that the limiting factor is the cost of interconnection and cooperation, rather than the complexity of the individual elements. Amorphous computing proposes to eliminate the need for precision interconnect altogether, in favor of a new approach to organizing programs and processes.

  2. Mechanisms for incorporating sensing, computation, and actuation into ordinary engineering materials. Smart paint and smart skins admit a large class of applications that seem within reach.

  3. Programming technology required to orchestrate the activities of huge numbers of programmable entities. We will distill organizing principles that will enable us to develop software that directs the construction of specific structures. To make a three-dimensional tightly-packed system, for example, we will have to have software that organizes parts into power distribution and heat removal structures as well as communication paths. How does the DNA program for a maple leaf cell construct the pattern of veins? Can we use this idea to build better machines?

Gerald Jay Sussman
Thu Jun 27 16:56:19 EDT 1996