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Math Science

Stanford Researchers Discover the 'Anternet' 133

Posted by samzenpus
from the ant-power dept.
stoilis writes "A collaboration between Deborah Gordon, a Stanford ant biologist, and Balaji Prabhakar, a computer scientist, has revealed that the behavior of harvester ants, as they forage for food, mirrors the protocols that control traffic on the Internet. From the article: 'Prabhakar wrote an ant algorithm to predict foraging behavior depending on the amount of food – i.e., bandwidth – available. Gordon's experiments manipulate the rate of forager return. Working with Stanford student Katie Dektar, they found that the TCP-influenced algorithm almost exactly matched the ant behavior found in Gordon's experiments. "Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they've been doing it for millions of years," Prabhakar said.' The abstract is published in the Aug. 23 issue of PLoS Computational Biology."
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Stanford Researchers Discover the 'Anternet'

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    They have known this for years. In fact some of the original researched used ant farms to do this...

    Interesting rediscovery...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I guess this verifies that the first ant invasion I experienced at a picnic was really a denial of service attack.

      Then there is the matter of time-to-live propagation issues. Do the ants that wander off never to return die of hunger, get eaten, or become political refugees at another colony?

      Are the strange experiments with small frequency differences between regions of the power grid somehow tied to some conspiracy to mess with time references between people's machines, perhaps to kill traffic by messing w

      • by plover (150551) *

        Bug spray would be censorship, denying all traffic along that route. Anteaters would be like IDP appliances, zapping some packets it thinks are suspicious (or tasty.) Fire ants would be a DDoS attack. And cars would be like a congested router, wiping out packets indiscriminately.

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        Are the strange experiments with small frequency differences between regions of the power grid somehow tied to some conspiracy to mess with time references between people's machines, perhaps to kill traffic by messing with time-to-live handling, or perhaps identify where packets are from even when their addresses are invalid?

        Whhaaatt?

        That's like the MAFIAA hiring occult members to come up with esoteric ways to kill traffic. Or better yet.... Daffy Duck's plan to get to Planet X, the last source of Illudium Phosdex, the shaving creme atom.

  • news? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:19AM (#41136343)

    ummm.... I do believe there were some seminal works during the pre-BT days regarding ant routing -- http://mute-net.sourceforge.net/howAnts.shtml.

    while that has more to do with routing than congestion avoidance, I would hope that your average network engineer knows that ants have the EEs beaten cold.

    • I had the same initial thought that you did. However, I didn't realize that harvester ants do not rely on pheremones which makes their approach slightly different than the typical Ant-Colony Optimization algorithms (which have been applied to routing). It would be interesting to know how the harvester ants communicate geographic information when they touch thier antennae. Something that may be revealed once I have the chance to read the rest of the article (beyond the abstract).
  • by paiute (550198) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:24AM (#41136367)
    Formic post!
  • How close? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:25AM (#41136383)

    the TCP-influenced algorithm almost exactly matched the ant behavior

    How close?

    They talking about a full implementation of RFC 5681 with all 4 schemes and all the bells and whistles, or just some trendy popular science stuff with "well, there seems to be ACKs".

    http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5681 [ietf.org] (not a rickroll, I promise)

    I suppose a RFC 5681 loss recovery mechanism would be something like what happens when you step on an ant. ssthresh TCP setting is like how many ants fit thru the hole at once when you agitate the colony with a stick? We could probably have a lot of fun doing "official slashdot ant analogies" instead of the more common "official slashdot car analogies"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    +++Out Of Cheese Error ???????+++ Redo from Start

    • by Eraesr (1629799)
      I knew there had to be AT LEAST one other person making the link between this article and Discworld :-)
  • by thomasw_lrd (1203850) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:27AM (#41136407)

    "Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they've been doing it for millions of years," Prabhakar said.

    Does anybody else see the problem with this statement?

    I think it would have been better said "We have discovered an algorithm that ant know well."

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:36AM (#41136489) Journal

      I think it would have been better said "We have discovered an algorithm that ant know well."

      Arguably, unless 'knowing' is something that you can do with substantially less nervous system than we expect, it might be more apt to think of ants as being capable of executing an algorithm, rather than 'knowing' it. By way of example, even children who haven't had a day of math in their lives, and are totally ignorant of the physics describing the trajectories of objects near the earth's surface can still catch a ball you toss to them most of the time(and sending them off to physics class is hardly the most efficient way of improving their performance...)

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:51AM (#41136609)

        Arguably, unless 'knowing' is something that you can do with substantially less nervous system than we expect, it might be more apt to think of ants as being capable of executing an algorithm, rather than 'knowing' it.

        The ant executes the algorithm. The colony knows the algorithm. (It's embedded in the colony's firmware, implemented in ants. Just as the sort of real-time calculus required to catch a ball is embedded in primate DNA, implemented in neurons.)

    • I think it would have been better said "We have discovered an algorithm that ant know well."

      Obviously you're a pro-Formic shill. The International Fleet will not tolerate this kind of sympathy. Your post has been reported to Commander Hyrum Graff!

    • "Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they've been doing it for millions of years," Prabhakar said.

      Does anybody else see the problem with this statement?

      To be fair, the ants implemented the algorithm first, ergo: Nature discovered it first. Or, if you'd rather not personify the cosmos: Such protocols are naturally emergent.

      Most of what we're now learning and formalizing was discovered by nature millions of years ago. Slime molds can solve traffic patterns too. Pine cones "know" the Fibonacci sequence (at an intimate level). Fast Fourier Transforms are how our brains filter signals for certain kinds of pattern recognition. Holograms are macro scale demonstrations of reality at the quantum level. Neural networks can think (well duh). Life, as we know it, is merely a fractal expansion of DNA.

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      THAT is what you see as a problem? Not the gaping triviality of their "discovery"? The wider the bandwidth, the more you can send?

      That's what I am talking about when commenting on another article at today's ./:

      http://science.slashdot.org/story/12/08/26/2330217/the-sweet-mystery-of-science [slashdot.org]

      We know almost everything we can possibly scientifically know, adding here that logical result of this gnoseological cul-de-sac is abundance of "scientific" articles about nothing.

      • Their discovery is rather than the ants also know that, and know how to optimally discover these conditions and adapt to them.

        And, no, we don't know "almost everything". If we did, we wouldn't be building things like LHC.

        • by mapkinase (958129)

          bq. And, no, we don't know "almost everything". If we did, we wouldn't be building things like LHC.

          I do not see a contradiction here. LHC is for what is left when you subtract "almost" from "all".

    • by InlawBiker (1124825) on Monday August 27, 2012 @12:15PM (#41137627)

      Now you're just arguing semANTics.

    • It's obvious the ants reverse-engineered our protocol - we demand US$1Bn for such blatant piracy.

  • by tomhath (637240) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:27AM (#41136409)
    I suppose an anteater is used to stop ant torrents. Or would that be a DOS attack?
  • by Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:29AM (#41136423)
    And yet again, Sir Terry Pratchett is making me speechless with his insights. Now, it's almost like something is taking its pleasure in making a real-life citations from his books.
  • is THC - influenced.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:31AM (#41136441) Journal

    Ants may have discovered TCP; but they are ignorant of the secret of aggressive litigation...

    • I'd still like to see a queen ant standing behind a mic stand with Gloria Alred; shaking their fists at the sexist men who ripped off her ideas.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      Ants may have discovered TCP; but they are ignorant of the secret of aggressive litigation...

      Litigation to protect their IP?

    • Ants may have discovered TCP; but they are ignorant of the secret of aggressive litigation...

      Ants are separated by caste in Queen, male, worker, soldier. Next evolutionary step: the lawyer caste, that sue other colonies foodless.

  • Bah (Score:4, Funny)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:40AM (#41136529)

    They may have invented TCP/IP, but not "on a computer". So I call this prior art invalid.

    • by gmyuriy (1441755)

      They may have invented TCP/IP, but not "on a computer". So I call this prior art invalid.

      You should say "prior aNt"

  • ...And some (i.e the army ants) also practice a form of Denial of Service Attacks when they carry out massive raids over a specific area, denying food for other colonies.

    They also wage wars of annihilation where weaker colonies are wiped out. But that's another story and the algorithm is way simpler.
  • Daniel Suarez - Kill Decision... way more disturbing than Sir Pratchett...

  • by smitty97 (995791) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:43AM (#41136559)
    This one really is just a series of tubes
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I, for once, welcome this powerful tactical insight to rebel against our new insect overlords.

  • Common sense? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kgskgs (938843) on Monday August 27, 2012 @10:56AM (#41136645) Journal

    I honestly didn't see a lot of substance here.

    Instead of saying ants use TCP, I would say ants and TCP both use common sense.

    When I apply for jobs, I contact friends in my network. If someone gets back to me faster, I reply back faster and send my resume to them quickly. Does that mean I am following TCP/IP?

    • by tippe (1136385)

      Agreed. It's the same with kids and popsicles. If one kid enters a room with a popsicle, one or a few kids will notice and will go searching around for where the popsicle came from. If those kids then all come back with popsicles, even more will start noticing and will then start hunting around for them too, just like the ants in the article. I saw just this occur at a school picnic a couple of months ago.

      Now replace "popsicle" with "ice cream sandwhich" and "kid" with "grown up man" and you see exactly

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Honestly, I think the kids-and-popsicles thing is more like TOR, because in both cases people will infer you're some kind of evil pedocreep.

        • by tippe (1136385)

          Or maybe they won't assume that each person that mentions kids is automatically a pedophile, and might instead infer that I was simply one parent amongst many at a school picnic, who just happened to notice the fascinating and efficient way in which popsicles somehow managed to get distributed to all kids, all without the need for fancy announcements or for them to be hand-delivered.

          What's I find more troublesome is that at the time I had no idea that I had made some grand discovery that I could have likene

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      > I honestly didn't see a lot of substance here.
      > Instead of saying ants use TCP, I would say ants and TCP both use common sense.

      Bingo, my friend. Sadly enough, that's vast majority of modern day scientific articles. Like the subject of the OA - ants - modern scientists are foraging where the bandwidth is wider - grant, fame, circle jirk, etc, etc...

  • I mean, if apple can patent rectangles, this one should be a cinch to get through the courts. Welcome your new ant masters! All your sugar cubes are belong to us.

  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Monday August 27, 2012 @11:01AM (#41136681) Homepage Journal
    PLoS Computational Biology does not have issues, it publishes continually as an online-only journal. People will also notice when clicking on the link to the abstract that they can view the full article for free, from anywhere, no paywall restrictions of any sort.
    • Formally, they still assign volume and issue numbers; this article appears in "volume 8, issue 8." Which seems a little strange for all-online journals, I agree, but I think they're trying to make it easy for standard-form citations.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought that TCP was largely influenced by the behavior of ants. So the only surprise with this discovery to me is that those researchers seem to be oblivious to that fact

  • I always wondered what do they do and how they forage for foods. I never thought they knew TCP! Fascinating. On the one hand, when I understood TCP first time, the protocol seems more reasonable and choreography for data congestion seems intuitive. But if ants could think the same way as human, my opinion of ants' intelligence is changing.
    • by plover (150551) *

      A single ant is pretty much just a stupid state machine, more like a neuron with legs. It takes a whole colony to exhibit this behavior.

      Therefore we can conclude that ants discovered modular design, object oriented programming, and the state pattern millions of years ago, right?

      • by hkrish4 (2704651)
        Ha ha ha. Cool. well said John. Include also master slave paradigm which is used in most of the parallel programming concept.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2012 @11:06AM (#41136721)

    Sounds very impractical. I mean, even if you could get enough ants to carry the standard station wagon full of tapes, they're still not going to attain highway speeds.

  • Hank Pym's super ants got out of the lab again.

  • by dirkx (540136) <dirkx@vangulik.org> on Monday August 27, 2012 @11:10AM (#41136787) Homepage
    From the article:

    .. feedback loop allows TCP [to run][ congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles...

    which does seem to be a far cry from TCP. While common lore (and the modern buffer bloated internet) has it that high RTT means little available bandwidth (and it sure does play havoc with the bandwidth product - giving rise to that lore fairly) - the design calls for packet drop rather than delay to indicate a link being overloaded. And while the source slows down - it does not actually throttles; it just awaits the ack - it wont slow down the next packets. It is just that the window won't grow further. So makes one think of the observations in RFC-2488.

  • Yeah the Anternet is awesome and all but the ping time is crap. I tried playing CS on it and with the horrible ping time everything was just unplayable and then one of them wandered into my power supply and fried my PC.
  • by mapkinase (958129) on Monday August 27, 2012 @11:29AM (#41137047) Homepage Journal

    At the risk of sounding stupid without reading anything, may I predict that they discovered something trivial or tautological, or otherwise useless like "fractals", "power law", "criticality", etc. etc etc...

  • My kitchen is full of ants! I need a firewall and a better router.

  • Does nobody read discworld any more? Where ants act as bits in a magical computer?
    Paai

  • Call Al Gore! We need an on-ramp to the ant-formation superhighway.
  • by lorinc (2470890) on Monday August 27, 2012 @01:48PM (#41139043) Homepage Journal

    You might want to check the PhD [idsia.ch] of this guy [idsia.ch] in 1998 entitled "Ant Colony Optimization and its application to adaptive routing in telecommunication networks".

    There are plenty of other ant like heuristics to network routing even older than this. Ant behavior modelization dates as far as 1989 (from J-L. Deneubourg), and routing was the first practical application for the derivative algorithms.

  • 2 species, on the same planet int the same general point in history come up with a similar process for a similar problem. *yawn*

  • Please pick up the phone at the ant counter.

  • by jemenake (595948) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:33PM (#41140349)
    It's another example of us trying to think about optimum strategies and then finding that nature, through millions or billions of years of trial-and-error, has come up with almost the same solutions.

    One example is with sea-slug procreation. Certain sea-slugs can change their sex, but they can't do it in the heat of the moment, apparently. They have to decide what to be ahead of time. The technique they use is to become the sex opposite of the last other slug they came across... and it turns out that this also is the optimal solution to the classic "prisoner's dilemma" game-theory problem.

    Another example is in computer networking. With Ethernet, when you have something to send, you listen on the wires to see if any other card is transmitting. If not, you start sending. If you notice another card start sending at the same time, you both stop and wait a random amount of time, and then check to see if anyone else is transmitting, etc. It turns out that this is exactly how humans converse in small groups. You wait until nobody's talking, and then open your mouth to speak. If you get a "collision" (where someone else started talking at the same time), then both people shut up and look at each other, and, usually, one will resume talking first. Every now and then, you'll get repeated collisions and then everybody start laughing and they pass the Cheetos.

    When you get too many devices on the network, and traffic gets too high, then collisions become a big issue (this was before the days of switched hubs, people). You couldn't have devices just transmitting whenever they wanted because the odds of colliding with another transmission was too high. So, they came up with Token-Ring, where each device is given it's "turn" to transmit on the network, and then it passes its permission to the next one. It turns out that humans do this, too, when groups get so large that everyone would be interrupting and colliding. For example "The floor now recognizes the distinguished gentleman from Missouri", or "Mr. Speaker, I know relinquish the remainder of my time to the gentleman from Iowa...".

    Some would view these similarities as "Hey... nature ain't so stupid!", but I view it the other way... that our thought-out method is probably pretty close to the optimal solution (either that or trapped in a local maxima along with the ants and slugs).
  • does this mean we have to pay them the copyright
  • There is also research to suggest that ants connect colonies together using Steiner trees, which are related to minimum cost spanning trees. Network engineers are familiar with these since they're used in the protocol of the same name to prevent layer 2 loops. Now we discover they have a TCP-like throttling mechanism. Next we'll decode a colony as HTTP and figure out they're just playing farmville.

    Also: Deborah Gordon (one of the authors of the paper) has an enjoyable book on her harvester ant research call

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