Victus Spiritus


Emergent Design by a Super Organism

25 Feb 2011

It's easy to forget that man doesn't have a monopoly on massive construction projects. Colonies of ants have evolved to construct extraordinary shelters for defense and reproduction. On scale, these construction projects mimic our own cities with functioning highways, fungus gardens, rubbish pits, and proper ventilation. 

Maintenance is conducted by worker ants (wingless sterile females) which may have varied specializations. Jobs include tunneling, food gathering, defense, and breeding (new winged females and short lived males). 

Programmed Colonies, Ant Cyborgs

Ants are replicating and building machines. Why not leverage millions of generations of evolution to our benefit? The border between mechanical and biological machines is semantic in constrained evolution (blueprints can survive species extinction). Cutting edge research probes the limits of nanorobotics, while in parallel scientists explore using control systems embedded in small living organisms.

The following video demonstrates control of a large beetle's flight remotely.

Where do the design blueprints originate

For our construction projects we defer design to specialized architects who take into account constraints and needs. Where is the creative source for colonies of insects? There is a relationship between survival instincts, social behavior, and environmental limitations. Purely random search through near optimal designs requires enormous luck (roomful of Monkey's writing Shakespeare by chance). While it's not yet clear how decisions are conducted by colonies, behavioral studies should enlighten us to measurable signals we can observe in our own mega colonies (cities, Internet communities).