what do ants and the Internet have in common? A Stanford ant biologist
and a computer scientist came up with the answer:
On the surface, ants and the Internet don't seem to have much in common.
But two Stanford researchers have discovered that a species of harvester
ants determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in much the
same way that Internet protocols discover how much bandwidth is available
for the transfer of data. The researchers are calling it the "anternet."
Deborah Gordon, a biology professor at Stanford, has been studying
ants for more than 20 years. When she figured out how the harvester
ant colonies she had been observing in Arizona decided when to send
out more ants to get food, she called across campus to Balaji Prabhakar,
a professor of computer science at Stanford and an expert on how files
are transferred on a computer network. At first he didn’t see any overlap
between his and Gordon’s work, but inspiration would soon strike.
"The next day it occurred to me, 'Oh wait, this is almost the
same as how [Internet] protocols discover how much bandwidth is available
for transferring a file!'" Prabhakar said. "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."