Collective intelligence of ants and swarms

Last update : August 6, 2013

Collective intelligence, also called group wisdom, is shared knowledge arrived at by individuals and groups. The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. James Surowiecki published published in 2004 his book The Wisdom of Crowds about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.

Group intelligence refers to a process by which large numbers of people simultaneously converge upon the same point(s) of knowledge.

Collective intelligence, which is sometimes used synonymously with collective wisdom, is more of a shared decision process than collective wisdom. Collective intelligence is a shared intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in animals, humans and computer networks. The term is related to the Global Brain.

If we look at ants, we can see that they exhibit many of the characteristics and behaviours that we associate with intelligence and civilization, for example :

  • ants build cities (ant hills) with contain complex ventilation systems, waste recycling and complex transportation systems including highways
  • ants farm and cultivate mushrooms
  • ants raise and keep other insects for food
  • ants wage wars in organized batallions
  • ants capture slaves
  • ants teach and communicate
  • ants collaborate and do teamwork

The study of the behavior of social insects like ants and bees is part of the Swarm Intelligence (SI). This is a relatively new discipline that deals with the study of self-organizing processes both in nature and in artificial systems. The concept is employed in work on artificial intelligence. The expression was introduced by Gerardo Beni and Jing Wang in 1989, in the context of cellular robotic systems. Besides ant colonies, natural examples of SI include bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth and fish schooling. The application of swarm principles to robots is called swarm robotics, a special case is ant robotics. In computer science and operations research, the ant colony optimization algorithm (ACO) is used to find good paths through graphs.

collective intelligence of ants

ANTS2012 , September 2012 Brussels

A first workshop ANTS98 on Ant Colony Optimization, “From ant colonies to artificial ants”, took place in October 1998 in Brussels. The eight international conference ANTS2012 (in the meantime called Swarm Intelligence) took place in September 2012 in Brussels.

In 2006, the Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) was created at MIT to make collective intelligence a topic of serious academic study. O’Reilly Media published in 2007 the book Programming Collective Intelligence, written by Toby Segaran.