New research from the Rockefeller University suggests that colonies of ants make decisions collectively, with outcomes dependent both on the magnitude of the stressor requiring a decision as well as the size of the ant group. The findings suggest that ants combine sensory information about their environment with parameters of their colony to arrive at a group response.
Most interestingly of all, this process is similar to the way neural networks make decisions.
“We pioneered an approach to understand the ant colony as a cognitive-like system that perceives inputs and then translates them into behavioral outputs,” says Daniel Kronauer, head of the Laboratory of Social Evolution and Behavior at Rockefeller, and lead author of the paper. “This is one of the first steps toward really understanding how insect societies engage in collective computation.”
The team explains that decision-making is all about handling a series of computations in such a way as to maximize benefits and minimize costs. In sensory response thresholding for example — this is a common type of decision-making for living organisms — an animal has to feel a particular sensory input such as pain past a certain level to embark on a costly behavior, such as running away. If the input isn’t strong enough, the response is not ‘worth it’. [Continue reading…]