In 1960, Denis Noble developed a pioneering computer model of the working human heart using an “expensive and slow” mainframe computer, the Ferranti Mercury.
Having given up maths at 16, Denis — now Prof Emeritus and Co-director of Computational Physiology at the University of Oxford — had to teach himself machine code to program it.
He also had to use it between 2am and 4am, at a time when there was little competition from other researchers. But his discovery that hardware and software could be used to simulate biological organs led to the hugely important discipline of systems biology. This has enabled many further breakthroughs including the development of the drug, Ivabradine, to treat heart failure.
The Mercury took two hours to reproduce two seconds of heart rhythm. Today Denis uses a desktop PC to model far more complex systems. Recently he has been studying skeletal muscle activity to explore how an ancient Chinese herbal remedy can relieve cramp.
Denis has extended the subject’s scope to evolutionary biology. His books on systems biology have introduced the subject to a wider audience. He does not expect a virtual human in the near future, but foresees the possibility of biological entities with AI brains that could be weapons of war.
He was interviewed by Jane Bird and his interview should be live in October.
Denis Noble on the First Heart Model
Denis Noble on Computing Power
Denis Noble on AI and Creativity