Contrary To Popular Belief, Al Gore Didn’t Invent the Internet, Ants May Have Though

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News Posted: Tue, Aug 28 2012 10:46 AM
Research dating back to the 1960s ultimately gave birth to the Internet, which at a glance doesn't seem to have much in common with ants. Look closely, however, and you'll discover certain parallels between today's vast network of interconnected computers and the underground tunnels of those social insects that belong to the family Formicidae.

That's the conclusion reached by two Standford researchers who discovered that a species of harvester ants determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in similar fashion to the way Internet protocols examine how much bandwidth is available for transferring data. They're calling it the "anternet."

Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science at Standford, fielded a call from Deborah Gordon, a biology professor at the same university, who made the initial discover. At first, Prabhakar said he didn't see the parallel between ant colonies and data transfers on computer networks. A day later, a light bulb went off.


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"The algorithm the ants were using to discover how much food there is available is essentially the same as that used in the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)," Prabhakar said.

TCP uses a feedback loop whereby the source and destination points communicate with each other when data packets are sent and received. Depending on how fast or slow messages are sent and received, the source can determine how much bandwidth is available and throttle as necessary.

That's grossly simplifying things, but it's also very similar to how harvester ants operate. According to Gordon, the rate at which harvester ants leave the nest in search for food directly corresponds to how much food is available. When seeds are plentiful, the forager returns faster and more ants leaves to forage. But when food is scarce and ants start returning without any seeds, the search process is slowed down, or throttled, if you will.

"Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they've been doing it for millions of years," Prabhakar said.
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Erakith replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 11:16 AM

Totally awesome! Ants are incredible little things.

.. Annoying sometimes too.

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JOMA replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 11:43 AM

hate them in my house but they are incredibly resourceful and inventive. I've seen some really cool shows on ant colonies from different parts of the world and it's just crazy how they do things like cross water.

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It may be cruel but i remember when i was little i would catch them and throw it on a spider web and the spider would start spining web on it and then carrying it back to the middle. I like ants and theyr networking capabilities are really remarkble

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InsideSin replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 6:08 PM

For me, I see ants as a metaphor for human society. One ant alone is insignificant, but many organisms working together can do amazing things.

"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."

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realneil replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 7:42 PM

I've always been impressed with Ants. As a kid, I had Ant Farms.

Dogs are great judges of character, and if your dog doesn't like somebody being around, you shouldn't trust them.

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