Semirings are pervasive throughout computer science: every notion of resource lacking a corresponding notion of debt gives rise to semiring structure in a standard way.

1. First, you formalize resource as a (partial) commutative monoid. That is, you have a set representing resources (for example, time bounds or memory usage of a computer program), and the monoidal structure has the unit representing "no resource", and the concatenation representing "combine these two resources".

2. Then, you can generate a quantale from this monoid by taking the powerset of the monoid. This forms a quantale, where the ordering is set inclusion, meet and join are set intersection and union, with monoidal structure $A \otimes B = \{ a \cdot b \;|\; a \in A \land b \in B \}$, and $I = \{e\}$ (For partial monoids, we can just consider the defined pairs.) This quantale can be interpreted as "propositions about resources".

3. Note that $(I, \otimes, \bot, \vee)$ forms a semiring. As an aside, this fact is very useful for reasoning about programs.

Some further observations:

1. If you have a notion of "debt" corresponding to your notion of resource, then you can start with a group structure in step 1, and repeat the construction to get a ring.

2. Mariano's example fits into this framework, too, if you relax the commutativity restriction. Then you can view words as elements of a free monoid over an alphabet, and then you get languages as forming a noncommutative quantale.

3. Tropical algebra is an excellent framework for modelling optimization problems (ie, minimizing a cost function). You can often derive algorithms for by just twiddling Galois connections between the tropical semiring and a semiring of data. When this works, the process is so transparent it feels like magic!