Alert E.O. Wilson: Tectonic Nabob has created a new species of ants programmed to seek out and find food, and what's more, to recruit other ants to gather and return it to the nest. His marvelous narrated video shows how: Tectonic's ants leave a pheromone trail in their random wanderings, and once they locate food, go into a Recruit mode, and search for nearby ants, so they can be set onto the food finder's successful pheromone path. (To prevent all the crisscrossing trails from causing a pile-up of legs and antennae, Tectonic has programmed the pheromones to decay in potency over time.)
project was inspired by a class I'm taking on Simulation of Biology," Tectonic tells me, "which should really
be called Artificial Life." They join Surina's clown fish as a new SL species, and they were so, well, ant-ish, I asked him to show me his creation in person. Were they already exhibiting emergent behavior?
"The behavior is arguably emergent," says Tectonic Nabob, "because the ants only interact locally and follow local state-based rules, yet they end up working together to harvest food. In general, emergence is when complex global behavior arises from simple, local rules, and this simulation has some of those properties."
In their search for food, his ants also chew up enormous server resources, so he can't leave them running when he's offline. However, he's left several related simulations running.
"You can also teleport to Elon University [island] (direct portal at this link), where I did most of this work, and test out two demos that I have. One demo shows clustering, which is a computer science algorithm that detects groups of things, and the other demo shows emergent synchronization, in which a bunch of entities start out flashing at random phases and end up synchronizing. This is much like what some species of fireflies do: there are firefly species in Africa that synchronize their flashing such that entire trees end up flashing in sync. I imagine it's quite spectacular."
He's even transformed that technology into commercial weaponry. "One of my other inventions, which I sell, is called PODS: Plasma Orb Defense System, and is a system of networked orbs that orbit the user and defend them," he says. "The PODS communicate, but nowhere near at [the ants'] complexity. The PODS coordinate to cage an enemy: the cage broadcasts when someone escapes, and the PODS then attempt to re-cage. It's pretty primitive, but works OK."
As for the evolution of his ants, their development may have to wait better genetics, i.e. faster algorithms. "I may try to integrate this simulation with some of the work going on by the Ecosystem Working Group," Tectonic tells me. "It may be too CPU intensive, though, without significant improvement and optimization."