A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘swarm intelligence

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Bad Astronomy notes the mystery of distant active galaxy SDSS J163909+282447.1, with a supermassive black hole but few stars.
  • Centauri Dreams shares a proposal from Robert Buckalew for craft to engage in planned panspermia, seeding life across the galaxy.
  • The Crux looks at the theremin and the life of its creator, Leon Theremin.
  • D-Brief notes that termites cannibalize their dead, for the good of the community.
  • Dangerous Minds looks at William Burroughs’ Blade Runner, an adaptation of a 1979 science fiction novel by Alan Nourse.
  • Bruce Dorminey notes a new study explaining how the Milky Way Galaxy, and the rest of the Local Group, was heavily influenced by its birth environment.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at why the Chernobyl control room is now open for tourists.
  • Dale Campos at Lawyers. Guns and Money looks at the effects of inequality on support for right-wing politics.
  • James Butler at the LRB Blog looks at the decay and transformation of British politics, with Keith Vaz and Brexit.
  • Marginal Revolution shares a paper explaining why queens are more warlike than kings.
  • Omar G. Encarnación at the NYR Daily looks at how Spain has made reparations to LGBTQ people for past homophobia. Why should the United States not do the same?
  • Corey S. Powell at Out There shares his interview with physicist Sean Carroll on the reality of the Many Worlds Theory. There may be endless copies of each of us out there. (Where?)
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel explains why 5G is almost certainly safe for humans.
  • Strange Company shares a newspaper clipping reporting on a haunting in Wales’ Plas Mawr castle.
  • Frank Jacobs at Strange Maps looks at all the different names for Africa throughout the years.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers, in the case of the disposal of eastern Oklahoma, whether federal Indian law should be textualist. (They argue against.)
  • Window on Eurasia notes the interest of the government of Ukraine in supporting Ukrainians and other minorities in Russia.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at syntax on signs for Sloppy Joe’s.

[NEWS] Seven links about animal intelligence: orangutans, chimpanzees, humpback whales, fish, bees

  • Orangutans are smart enough to talk about things not immediately present, D-Brief notes.
  • The Crux notes that chimpanzees apparently have not developed small talk.
  • The remarkable evolution of the songs of humpback whales over time looks a lot like the evolution of pop culture among humans, I think. D-Brief reports.
  • Vox notes how, in many ways, trying to understand and communicate with humpback whales is so close to SETI.
  • This article at The Conversation looks at a recent adoption of a narwhal into a group of belugas. What does it mean about these species’ social relationships?
  • Gizmodo notes that, recently, the species of fish known as the cleaner wrasse passed the mirror test for self-awareness. What does this mean about fish intelligence? What does this mean about the test?
  • Honeybees, it turns out, can add and subtract. Motherboard reports.

[NEWS] Five D-Brief links: white dwarfs, FRBs, Barnard’s Star b, AT2018cow, termites

  • A new study by astronomers suggests that white dwarfs evolve over eons as they cool into immense crystals. D-Brief reports.
  • Canadian astronomers have found a second mysterious repeating fast radio burst. D-Brief reports.
  • Subsurface environments suitable for life could conceivably exist at Barnard’s Star b. D-Brief reports.
  • Astronomers observing the mysterious AT2018cow event in nearby dwarf galaxy CGCG 137-068t may have witnessed the formation of a compact object, a black hole or a neutron star. D-Brief reports.
  • The turning of the earth wrought by termite hives in tropical rainforests may help protect these environments from drought. D-Brief reports.

[NEWS] Five links about smart animals: elephants, octopuses, gorillas, primates, termites

  • D-Brief notes that elephants seem to count the same way humans do.
  • JSTOR Daily takes a look at the reasons why octopus mothers maintain such long, silent vigils over their eggs.
  • Happily, the mountain gorilla is now no longer a “critically endangered” species. CBC reports.
  • The Crux looks at how studies of communication among other primates can help solve the question of how language developed among humans.
  • D-Brief notes the determination that a collection of termite mounds dates back four thousand years, product of a sophisticated hive insect society.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 19, 2018 at 9:15 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber praises Candice Delmas’ new book on the duty of resistance to injustice.
  • D-Brief looks at how the designers of robots took lessons from wasps in designing a new robotic swarm that can pull relatively massive objects in flight.
  • Dead Things notes new evidence that the now-extinct elephant birds of Madagascar were nocturnal.
  • Far Outliers notes how the reeducation of Japanese prisoners of war by Chinese Communists helped influence American policy towards Japan, imagining a Japan that could be reformed away from imperialism.
  • At the Island Review, Alex Ingram profiles–with photos–some of the many different people who are the lone guardians of different small isolated islands removed from the British mainland.
  • JSTOR Daily notes how asteroids can preserve records of the distant past of the solar system.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money has contempt for Pence’s use of Messianic Jews to stand in for the wider, non-Christian, Jewish community.
  • At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen considers the consequence that a decline of art galleries might have on the wider field of modern art.
  • The NYR Daily considers the lessons that Thucydides, writing about Athens, might have for the United States now.
  • Anjali Kumar at Roads and Kingdoms writes about a meal of technically illegal craft beer served with raw shrimp in Bangkok.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel illustrates the six different ways a start can end up in a supernova.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that official Russian efforts to reach out to the Russian diaspora do not extend to non-Russian minorities’ own diasporas, like that of the Circassians of the North Caucasus.
  • Arnold Zwicky, starting by noting the passing of Dorcas, she who invented green bean casserole, looks at different pre-prepared foodstuffs.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait shares the latest from exoplanet PDS 70b, which has a gain in mass that has actually been detected by astronomers.
  • The Crux considers what information, exactly, hypothetical extraterrestrials could extract from the Golden Record of Voyager. Are the messages decipherable?
  • D-Brief shares the most detailed map yet assembled of Comet 67P, compiled from images taken by the Rosetta probe.
  • Karen Sternheimer at the Everyday Sociology Blog writes about the way changing shopping malls reflect, and influence, changes in the broader culture.
  • Hornet Stories notes that, while Pope Francis may not want parents of gay children to cut their ties, he does think the parents should look into conversion therapy.
  • JSTOR Daily links to a paper examining how beekeeping in early modern England led to the creation of a broader pattern of communications and discourse on the subject.
  • Language Hat shares the story of an American diplomat in 1960s Argentina, and his experiences learning Spanish (after having spoken Portuguese) and travelling in the provinces.
  • Language Log shares a biscriptal ad from Hong Kong.
  • The LRB Blog shares a story told by Harry Stopes about a maritime trip with harbour pilots from Cornwall.
  • Roads and Kingdoms shares an anecdote of a family meal of empanadas in the Argentine city of Cordoba during the world cup.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel explains why, in the early universe, the most massive stars massed the equivalent of a thousand suns, much larger than any star known now.
  • Towleroad shares Karl Schmid’s appearance on NBC Today, where he talked with Megyn Kelly about HIV in the era of undetectability.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the many obstacles placed by the Russian government in the way of Circassian refugees from Syria seeking refuge in their ancestral North Caucasus homeland.

[LINK] “Watch How Bees Teach Each Other to Solve Problems”

National Geographic‘s Brian Clark Howard describes a new study that demonstrates how bees, that epitome of a swarm intelligence, learn.

Bee see, bee do. At least that’s the conclusion of research published earlier this month, showing that bumblebees learn to solve problems by watching each other.

In the first study of its kind in insects, scientists constructed experiments that challenged bees to pull strings in order to access rewards of nectar. It’s a technique that has long been used to test cognition in various vertebrates, but hadn’t yet been tried with insects.

[. . .]

The first step was proving that bees could learn to solve a simple problem. But what’s more interesting is that other bees that hadn’t encountered the problem before picked up the ability to solve it more quickly when they had a chance to watch a trainer bee that had already figured out the puzzle.

Further, that knowledge was shown to spread from bee to bee throughout a colony, even if the first bee that figured out the trick died.

The scientists hoped their study would shed light on a bigger picture: how social learning spreads through a population. That might even have implications for the evolutionary roots of culture in human beings, they noted.

The study in question is available here.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2016 at 7:00 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Beyond the Beyond’s Bruce Sterling mourns the death of Alvin Toffler.
  • The Big Picture shares images of the Istanbul airport attack.
  • blogTO notes Toronto’s recent Trans March was the largest in world history.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly interviews memoirist Plum Johnson.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the determination of distances to dim stars and looks at the total energies likely to be used in interstellar travel and interplanetary colonization.
  • Crooked Timber notes the ordered recount in Austria’s presidential elections and advocates for anti-militarism.
  • D-Brief notes the exciting discoveries of Ceres, and observes that ancient tombs may have doubled as astronomical observatories.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze considers where warm Jupiters form, considers the stability of complex exoplanet systems, and notes a high-precision analysis of solar twin HIP 100963.
  • The Dragon’s Tales wonders if the shape of Martian sand dunes indicate a denser Martian atmosphere a bit more than four billion years ago.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog considers evictions and poverty in the United States.
  • Inkfish notes that different honeybees seem to have different personalities.
  • Language Hat notes the import of Maltese in Mediterranean history.
  • Language Log talks about Sino-Japanese.
  • Lovesick Cyborg shares the doubts of polled Americans with the viability of virtual lovers.
  • The LRB Blog shares an article supporting Corbyn.
  • The Map Room Blog notes that San Francisco was literally built on buried ships.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the collapse of Greek savings and looks at Euroskepticism’s history in the United Kingdom.
  • Steve Munro updates readers on Union-Pearson Express ridership.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer thinks the Netherlands Antilles offer useful models to the United Kingdom, and is confused by a claim that that bias against Mexican immigrants does not exist when the data seems to suggest it does.
  • Torontoist goes into the life of conservative Protestant newspaper publishing Black Jack Robinson.
  • Transit Toronto notes that in a decade, GO Trains will connect Hamilton to Niagara Falls.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues against using the Brexit vote to argue against referenda.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the Russian deployment of military forces to the Belarus border, looks at Tatarstan’s concern for its autonomy, observes the changing demographics of Ukraine, and notes the Russian debate over what sort of European Union collapse they would like.
  • Arnold Zwicky remembers his father through ephemera.

[LINK] “Can Social Insects Have a Civilization?”

In the past, I’ve blogged about the idea of swarm intelligence, the sort that might emerge from social insects or other highly social if individually simple-minded creatures. Centauri Dreams features a guest post from one Michael Chorost in which he imagines a trajectory for a social insect species to evolve to high civilization, even sentience.

[H]ere’s the idea I want to test on you all. I asked myself, “Would it be possible for social insect colonies on some other planet to evolve to have language and technology – in other words, a civilization?”

Of course, the idea of swarm intelligence, or hive-mind intelligence, has been around forever in science fiction. To give but one example, Frank Schatzing’s The Swarm posits an undersea alien made of single-celled, physically unconnected organisms that collectively have considerable intelligence. But I need to examine the idea with much more rigor than can be done in fiction.

I refined the question by deciding that, as on earth, the individual insects would have brains too small for serious cognition. The unit of analysis would not be individual bugs but colonies of bugs. The intelligence would have to emerge from their interaction.

After much thought, my answer to the question is “No – but…”

Let me explain both the No and the but. It is these explanations on which I want your feedback.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 2, 2016 at 5:52 pm

[LINK] On termites as models for construction robots

Wired’s Nadia Blake pointed towards the latest development in applied swarm intelligence.

Termites normally inspire thoughts of insect invasions, obnoxiously colored house-tents, or the Orkin man. But for a group of scientists at Harvard University, the cooperative insects inspired a whole new army of robots, described in Science.

These robots, each about the size of your head, follow a minimal set of rules when building a structure. Instead of detailed plans, they rely on environmental cues to accomplish their task — a minimalist strategy that’s based on a principle called “stigmergy.” Conceived in 1959 by a French biologist, the term describes how termite colonies cooperate and self-organize to build massive, intricate mounds. In some places, these mounds can be 8 feet tall; they’re also air-conditioned by a network of internal tunnels, and are often oriented along the Earth’s north-south magnetic axis.

But unlike humans, termites don’t follow blueprints or plans while constructing their homes. All they know is what the finished product is supposed to be, and what to pay attention to along the way. As each termite scoops up mudballs and deposits them in various places, it leaves a trail of chemical cues for other builders. Based on these cues, the other termites modify their building behaviors and deposit their own mudballs where the stuff is needed. Boom. Termite mound.

The fleet of Harvard robots follows this strategy, too. Their minimal programming includes the ability to move forward, backward, and rotate; they can also climb, sense, pick up and deposit bricks. Where they lay those bricks depends on what the other bots are doing and what the final structure is supposed to be.

Meeri Kim’s Washington Post article goes into much more detail.

“Around here, you hear about termites destroying buildings,” said Justin Werfel, a Harvard University computer scientist and author of a study in the current issue of the journal Science. “But in Africa and Australia, they are known for building enormous, complicated mounds of soil.”

[. . .]

Each termite is an organism of fairly low complexity, but, using stigmergy, a colony can build a highly complex structure. So the team started with this simple framework: Each robot must have its own basic brain and sensors, and be programmed with certain “traffic rules” it must obey.

The sensors enable them to see bricks and robots next to them, and the traffic rules depend on the final structure. They prevent robots from placing bricks in places where they might easily collapse, or constructing a scenario in which a brick would have to be squished in between two others.

Each robot, about eight inches long, consists of internal metal gears and hardware as well as 3-D printed parts. The bricks themselves are also made in a way that helps the robots climb and align them better.

“In our system, each robot doesn’t know what others are doing or how many others there are — and it doesn’t matter,” Werfel said.

The main difference from the real-life insect is that termites don’t have a desired end product. Rather, there is a random component involved; given the same starting place, a colony will build a slightly different structure every time. But for constructing a house, for instance, the robots would need to follow a specific blueprint. So Werfel created the option for a user to input a picture of a predefined structure, and the robots will go to town on building it.

The paper in question is here.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 19, 2014 at 4:55 am