Saturday, July 16, 2011

#15 Blog about the cognitive capability of insect swarms.

The request was that I blog about the cognitive capabilities of insect swarms, which, I’ve discovred, is also known as ‘swarm intelligence’ (SI). I thought this was a facetious request at first, but not only have I found out such intelligence exists, it’s also long been a subject of intense study by biologists, mathematicians and others.

Swarm intelligence is when group acts “to solve a problem collectively, in a way that individuals cannot”. Essentially, SI means that without centralized control, interactions between individuals cause a sort of ‘intelligent’ behaviour beyond that of which individual would be capable.

Problems SI can solve include such things as where to find food. A sudden shift in direction by a swarm has been attributed to small errors adding up to big change – sort of a tipping point being reached, I guess.

Natural examples of SI include bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, and fish schooling. Insects which move in swarms include: locusts, midges, mosquitoes, bees, ants, butterflies, milk bugs, gnats and termites.

Knowledge gained from studying SI is being studied for such things as cancer treatment and the development of artificial intelligence. It’s even been used in films, such as creating battle scenes (Lord of the Rings) or structuring behaviour (the Borg in Star Trek).

There are many mathematical models out there which are based upon swarm intelligence. But I admit that, given the scope of this blog, the hour of night and my waning interest in the minutia of details about swarm math models, I cannot understand nor explain them.

I content myself to relay what one blogger identified as the five most dangerous insect swarms in the world – all of which are dangerous not because each individual is so threatening, but because these insects act tenaciously en masse. The top five are: 5) locusts; 4) fire ants; 3) yellow jacket wasps; 2) army ants; 1) killer bees.

I will also note that there are some pictures on the Christian Science Monitor site of insect swarms that might make your skin crawl a little.

And as a point to ponder, I wonder how SI could relate to Jung’s theories of collective unconsciousness. Now that’s something I’m interested in...

1 comment:

  1. This info, from my bee-raising Aunt, amazed me: