A conversation with Steve Burbeck about multicellular computing

Today's podcast is a conversation with Steve Burbeck on the topic of multicellular computing. I first met Steve at Tim O'Reilly's 2001 summit conference on peer-to-peer technologies. Steve was at IBM then, and was working on UDDI among other things. (He's an author of the UDDI spec.) His background prior to IBM includes consulting and product management in the realm of object-oriented development tools -- especially Smalltalk. Before that he ran data processing and statistics at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, acquiring the understanding of biological systems that he now hopes to apply to networked computer systems.

It seems intuitively obvious that nature's strategies for managing complexity in the biological realm can help us keep control of our information technologies. But nailing down exactly which strategies may be relevant, and why, and how to apply them, is going to be a challenge.

Steve identifies four themes from biology that he thinks might usefully translate to information technology: specialization, polymorphic messaging, stigmergy, and apoptosis. At least two of these terms may be unfamiliar to you, as they were to me. Stigmergy, Wikipedia currently says, is "a method of communication in emergent systems in which the individual parts of the system communicate with one another by modifying their local environment." Apoptosis is cell suicide.

It was great fun exploring with Steve how these principles could help us understand, and manage, the multicellular computing fabric that we're creating. The paper that you'll hear us mention, in which Steve spells out these ideas, was unpublished at the time of our interview, but is available now at here.

Update: Transcript now available.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2006/04/14.html#a1427