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Mycelium (Photo Source Christian Scheckhuber, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Data Processing From The Cloud To The Mycelium Network

What do mushrooms, or fungi, have to do with information and data processing?

From an IT perspective, data is more associated with the cloud, which are a network of online data center platforms provided as a service by the likes of Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft (Azure), among others. You would not think fungi and data can go together. You are probably thinking that fungi is best served in a cream of mushroom soup or a slice of pizza, and not with an enterprise information system.

Mushrooms are edible fungi which can be used with pizza (Photo Credit ROMAN ODINTSOV)

Introduction To Fungi

Fungi are organisms that provides an edible part that we see in some mushrooms or yeast used in baking bread. There is also another part called the mycelium, which is the root of the organism. We don’t see it often because it grows as threads underneath the soil. The mycelium comes from spores that germinate, which are like seeds to plants.

Spores thrive in moist and humid environments, where they grow into a network called hyphae. These resemble threads like the roots of a plant, and they bear the growth of mushrooms and other fungi. Mycelium grow into vast networks underneath the soil, and spread fungi. They also recycle and distribute nutrients from the soil to other organisms, so they have an important purpose in natural ecosystems.

They are also a form of organic communications network which form colonies from where fungi like mushrooms grow from. This is what fascinates scientists who have studied how mycelium operate. They have their own geometry which shows how the mycelium network grows. There is great potential to explore its application to processing data and information.

Most popular example of fungi, mushrooms (Photo Credit by Visually Us)

Fungal Computers

There are a few good sources, but not that many, to fungal computers or fungal computing. The concept is not just about using mushrooms as computers. You can keep those on your pizza, but the more important thing to consider is the mycelium network. The concept stems from the idea that it can be used as a computing device that makes use of mycelium geometry.

The architecture is still silicon-based electronic components or quantum computing components. What changes are the micro-circuitry configuration, which will mimic the way mycelium hypha works. Each root in a mycelium network could be conceptualized as a road or path to a solution. There can be an infinite number of solutions to solving a problem using this approach.

Programming a fungal computer requires controlling the mycelium network’s geometry. The fungi emits electrical signals which can be interpreted as messages. According to research scientist Mohammad Mahdi Dehshibi:

“By changing the environmental conditions, we can reprogramme a geometry and a theoretical structure of the graphics of mycelium networks and then use the electrical activity of the fungi to create computing circuits”

Spikes detected from emitted electrical signals are represented as data, from the fruits (i.e. mushrooms) in a mycelium network. They can be like nodes that gather data, functioning much like sensors. This helps in processing data and providing information. Finally, coding and decoding messages in a mycelium network is going to be part of building a functioning computer.

A logic circuit derived from the research of Andrew Adamatzky from a fungal automation simulation. R, U, L, D are values of input variables. (Read more in research paper)

Applications

In theory there is a concept, but in reality there is no actual fungal computer (as of June 2021). The electrical signals are faint, but can be detected using algorithms that can create an accurate representation of the data. This makes fungal computers ideal as sensors in environmental applications. That would make them ideal for gathering large scale data about the soil, nutrients and air in a particular environment. These biological sensors can then feed the data to a high speed computer network for real time analysis.

Different types of devices that use fungal computers could be applied to shortest path algorithms used in driverless cars or delivery robots, computational geometry processors and hybrid electronic devices. There are other uses for mycelium that are already being applied today, but not in computing. It can be useful in construction materials like bricks and packaging replacement for plastic.

Synopsis

If you have watched any episode of Star Trek Discovery, you have probably heard about “spore drives” and “mycelial networks”. The starship Discovery’s secret technology was its ability to navigate the universe using a mycelial network. While that is science-fiction, the science fact is that mycelium and fungi do have potential uses in solving real problems. Fungi are resilient and intelligent organisms which we can learn a lot from.

Fungal computers are actually slower than their silicon counterparts. Since they are organic in nature, their limitation is in their function. Thus, they are not meant to replace traditional computers or compete with quantum computers. What researchers see as a viable use of mycelium networks is in their ability to transmit/collect data and distribute information in a network. Unlocking this system and applying it to real world problems could help realize its true potential.

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Essays and articles about interacting with modern devices and how they work.

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Vincent Tabora

Vincent Tabora

Editor HD-PRO, DevOps Trusterras (Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Software Development, Engineering, Photography, Technology)

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