Can we surpass nature?

I recently spoke with a research scientist at Ohio State who said something I found very interesting. He told me that the way he approaches his research is by attempting to mimick nature, “and then we want to surpass nature by producing a better product,” he said.

How fascinating to think that human beings could produce something that out performs nautre. For example, he discussed how Geco lizards climb vertical surfaces of varying material, glass or concrete for example, by attaching and unattaching their very hairy feet. Geco lizards have an average of 3 billion tiny hairs on their feet, which makes them the spidermen of the animal kingdom. Scientists are currently working on reproducing this tiny hairy approach nature has taken to create climbing robots that can mimick a Geco’s sticky skills.

Another material this researcher is looking at is reproducing shark skin. I had always bleieved that it was the powerful tail and aerodynamic shape that allowed sharks to move smoothly through water, but in fact it’s more subtle than that. The secret lies within the large animal’s skin. “Nature works very well on a microscopic scale,” the scientist said, “which is why it is so difficult to mimick,” he continued. In the shark’s case, nature has provided its skin with a microscopic filtering process which allows the water to smoothly flow across the skin, thus reducing friction and drag, which would hinder the predator’s speed.

I wonder how one measures whether an aritficial Geco or shark is better than the real one. I’m guessing that artificial Geco’s can climb higher, faster and that fake sharks can swim faster. But, what does it matter if our inventions are better than nature? In my opinion we’re just the copy cats. Nature is the true inventor and always will be.

Let us not forget that our brains, one of nature’s many architectural masterpieces, is still one of the most complex and misunderstood biological systems. Remembering this comforts me that there will be no artifical intelligence so intellectual that it may develop its own diabolical plan to enslave (or destroy) the human race. Until that day comes, nature is still our superior.

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