5
$\begingroup$

Obviously I'm not looking for practicality, but more curious if it would work. If mice(or something else small) classically conditioned to press a button when they saw a certain light or heard a certain sound, would you be able to make a simple computing device out of them?

How much information could you train a mice to memorize? How many Light/button combinations could you teach it before you'd need another one? A bit? A Byte?

What technology would all need not to be present in the setting for this to be a wee bit practical?

$\endgroup$

closed as off-topic by StephenG, nzaman, Azuaron, sphennings, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Dec 1 '17 at 15:24

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – StephenG, nzaman, Azuaron, sphennings, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Yes this would be possible, but why do the extra step? You already have a light or sound - the extra step of the animal pressing a button is completely redundant and all it would do is cause errors and money and speed. This is exactly like asking: You can travel by train from Paris to Rome. But would it also be possible to stop every meter and have a mouse pushing a button to make the train go again? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Dec 1 '17 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I didn't really think of it that way. A rat pressing a button is really just an extension of whatever is turning on the light. So I guess I'd need a less electronic input and more complex rats. $\endgroup$ – John Heinze Dec 1 '17 at 14:15
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "He couldn't help feel that it would work better if he could only get more bugs in it" See Hex from the Discworld $\endgroup$ – Binary Worrier Dec 1 '17 at 14:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Have you looked at the work of Dr. Flintstone? He used to have a record player that was a small bird. $\endgroup$ – dgig Dec 1 '17 at 15:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BinaryWorrier I once had a computer with a terry pratchet store sticker on it that said "anthill inside". :) $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Dec 1 '17 at 18:10
6
$\begingroup$

Yes, it would not necessarily be very good, and it would likely not be digital, but there is no reason that such a computer could not be built. Animals may not be very reliable, and they may drop dead at unfortunate moments, but so do computers - admittedly, the more animals you have the less reliable you can expect things to be, overall, but something does not have to be very reliable to be useful - think of early weather reporting - nor does it have to be reliable at all, to be considered by a lot of people to be useful (think of horoscopes), sometimes just the novelty (the newest new thing) is enough to get people either using it, or enthusing about it.

As I said, it would likely not be digital, but could be very good at fuzzy thinking and pattern matching. A lot of modern computing is actually based around recognising significant patterns and taking actions accordingly. The trick is to reduce problems to patterns to be matched. Patterns could probably be best matched across the workforce, who of course would all need to be fed (think Bites, rather than Bytes), although some motivation other than food would be needed to drive the actual processing. It needs to be carefully thought through, but I believe it would be possible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_matching

The main obstacle, as I see it, would be designing a method of data storage and retrieval - I have no idea how that could be done, but I expect some imaginative person could think of a way, or a method of obviating the necessity.

I would suggest using small animals, such as ants, rather than larger animals, like mice. I would also suggest reading Douglas Adams, 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy'.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Get it? "Fuzzy" thinking? Cause they're rats? $\endgroup$ – RIanGillis Dec 1 '17 at 15:05
5
$\begingroup$

No. "Never work with small children or animals," is a quite well known quote in show business, as animals do not consistently react to stimulus. You cannot rely on multiple such animals in a system to give reliable results; it takes just one of them acting out to cause a glitch.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I feel as glitches would be part of the aesthetic of rat based processing. $\endgroup$ – John Heinze Dec 1 '17 at 14:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "rat-based pocessing" $\endgroup$ – mid Dec 1 '17 at 14:48
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Also, insect-based computing platforms tend to be very buggy. $\endgroup$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Dec 1 '17 at 15:27
4
$\begingroup$

Its possible, but not very plausible.

Animals have been used as targeting computers in experimental torpedo guidance systems during the world wars to great effect. However, advances in other technologies made them obsolete before they could ever be put into use.

Before the silicon transistor, there were mechanical computers. Switches were flippers by motors, gears, and actuators. I think the most you could reliably incorporate animals into the picture would be to have them power a mechanical linkage computer by running in wheels as the motors.

The instant you have electricity in the picture, it's possible to make a way more efficient computer.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Animals have been used as targeting computers - do you have a source? Or do you mean the human computing? $\endgroup$ – phflack Dec 1 '17 at 15:05
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pigeon $\endgroup$ – Stephan Dec 1 '17 at 15:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Wow, that's an impressively complex system... to be used by a bird brain $\endgroup$ – phflack Dec 1 '17 at 15:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ When computers didn't exist yet, you work with what you have. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Dec 1 '17 at 15:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just don't ruffle their feathers, or they might try pecking at you on the big screen $\endgroup$ – phflack Dec 1 '17 at 15:16

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.