Thursday, 10 July 2014

How efficient is technology compared to biology?

Fig.1. Efficiency of modern technology and biology compared: the portion of resources of various kinds (color-coded) used in an artefact (left) or biosystem (right) is shown for various dimensions ranging from nanometers to kilometers. Courtesy of my colleagues, [1].

In discussions about whether life bears any hallmarks of intelligence some people say:

«I would do it better and therefore the way this organism is structured or operates does not show any trace of wise decision making that would have caused the organism to exist. Consequently, it is a result of pure chance and law-like necessity».

The major flaw of this argument is in disregarding the multiplicity of optimization criteria which must be satisfied to achieve a goal. A win on one criterion in many such cases means a loss on another if those criteria are in conflict. The simplest example from everyday life is quality and price. In practice, an acceptable compromise is often in between the two extremes: the cheapest and the worst quality, as opposed to the most expensive and the best quality.

Fig. 1 shows a comparison of percent of resource usage in biological solutions (right) and in contemporary technology (left) for various sizes of human artefacts and organisms (from nanometers to kilometers). Resources are information, energy, time, space, structure and substance. E.g. for nanometer scale objects and organisms (the left hand side of both graphs) the modern technology is hugely less efficient than biological solutions in energy (several times as bad) and substance (about twice as bad). The graphs also demonstrate the importance of information processing across biosystems of all sizes.

See also my note here.


  1. Bogatyrev N., Bogatyreva O. (2014): BioTRIZ: a Win-Win Methodology for Eco-Innovation. - In: "Eco-Innovation and the development of Business Models. Lessons from Experience and New Frontiers in Theory and Practice", chapter 15, Vol.2, Springer Verlag, 2014, p.297-314.
  2. Jerry Coyne proven wrong by physicists about the eye,

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