Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Discovering the Anternet

Scientists at Stanford University have been studying harvester ants, and found an interesting parallel between how they judge food availability and how computers judge bandwidth when transferring data across the internet.  This article at Biology News has the detail.

If you send a file across the internet, one of the algorithms that manages the transfer is called Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the way it works is to break the file up into 'packets' and send the packets singly to the far end.  The receiving computer sends and acknowledgment or 'ack' back, so the sending computer knows the packet has arrived safely.

If there's a delay in the return of the acks, the sender recognises a restriction in the bandwidth, so sends packets less frequently so as not to overload the system.

In harvester ants, which forage for seeds and other suitable food, if fewer ants return with food, then fewer leave to forage, while if more return with food, then more will leave to forage.

So it seems ants invented the same management protocol as we use for file transfer, millions of years ago.  I think that's pretty cool.  It's also interesting to speculate what else we might learn from ants and other colonial insects, since there are 11,000 species of ant, living in a wide variety of habitat and dealing with endless different ecological problems.


ArcticFox said...

dare I add this into the mix?

Oh, I just did.... look at the date of the article too!!

Rob Clack said...

That's very funny! I love it!