Moody Adams - From book "Proof" When you noticed a trail of ants hurriedly carrying food back to their nest, did you ever think they would be the ones to teach humans how to run their computers?
Well, it has happened. Today our learned scientists are studying the ants to learn how to manage traffic on the internet.
Researcher Eric Bonabeau and his colleagues call the brilliant ideas learned from the ants “swarm intelligence.” “In a world where computer chips will soon be embedded in every object, from envelopes to trash cans to heads of lettuce, humans have much to learn from the simple communication strategies of ants,” Bonabeau wrote in the scientific journal Nature.
Bonabeau came to the United States from France to learn about the computer world. To his amazement, he found himself studying ants and other insects at New Mexico’s Santa Fe Institute. He has carried what the ants taught him back to France and started EuroBios. This company helps industry develop innovative software to tackle tough problems.
Like the internet, ants have virtually no brains. Yet the ants quickly find the fastest way to get their food to their house! They do it by leaving a chemical trail for other ants to follow. This principle is being used to improve computers which face the giant problem of moving information quickly from one side of the earth to the other. Like ants looking for strong chemical scents, programs trying to navigate the Internet can look for messages left behind by other “agents” that have gone before them.
A similar approach, called ant-colony routing, can help switching stations pass packets of information efficiently across telecommunications networks. Ant-like agents wander a network and report where they experience delays and for how long. With that information, the software then updates switching-station routing tables to improve the network’s performance.
Again, the internet and the ants have no authority over them. But they work together in perfect harmony without any central control. So computers are learning ways to get the flows of information to work with each other. Bonabeau said. “In communication networks, you get the whole power of the approach to work for you.” This has to be done without a supervisor telling the powers what to do. Ants know how to accomplish this and we have studied them and found out their secrets.
Ruud Schoonderwoerd of the Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Bristol, England, and his colleagues developed a system that imitates what the ants do. Their technique enables a network’s switching stations to respond quickly to congestion, local breakdowns, and other network problems.
The foraging behavior of ants also provides lessons for robotics engineers who want to create independent, mobile robots that operate effectively in unpredictable environments.
Ecologist Laurent Keller of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and his coworkers have applied experimental data on the division of labor among real-life ants to orchestrate the behavior of a swarm of small robots. The researchers described their approach in Nature magazine.
In their experiments, the team used up to 12 miniature, mobile Khepera robots, developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Just 55 millimeters in diameter, each robot was programmed to roam a 9-square-meter area to search for tokens representing food and bring them back to a base station, the equivalent of a nest.
Computer scientist Marco Dorigo of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium and his coworkers have built software that mimics the phenomenal trail building of an ant swarm.
Ivars Peterson wrote, in Science News, “In recent years, studies of ant behavior have suggested powerful computational methods for finding alternative traffic routes over congested telephone lines and novel algorithms for governing how robots operating independently would work together.”
The Bible told us to gain wisdom by studying the near-brainless ants: Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise (Proverbs 6:6). Today we are doing just that.
The ants do everything with dazzling speed. The queen lays 30,000 eggs a week, and her young are grown and educated in all they need to know in 40 days. They are geniuses in knowing their professions. The nurse ants keep the young ants licked clean and constantly move them about their homes so that they get the proper amount of sunlight, rest, and food; they even keep them out of the rain. The workers know how to gather food and get it back to the nest.
The army ants know how to fight and kill the monster insect creatures that want to eat them. The shepherd ants know how to keep herds of aphids and milk them. The construction ants know how to build nests. The “parasol” ants wisely carry large pieces of leaves back to their nest where they chew them and form mulch to grow their favorite food—mushrooms. Without hardly any brains, ants brilliantly prepare for the future. The Bible says, The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer (Proverbs 30:25).
These little creatures who work so wisely and teach us how to improve computers are a wonder—a wonder only a brilliant God could have made.