Before researchers developed the Internet, red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) developed the "Anternet". A surprisingly similar communications network using the same Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) that the Internet uses to manage data transmissions
Stanford University biology professor Deborah Gordon loves ants. She's got pictures of them on her walls, sculptures of them on her desk, and about 8000 live ants running around her lab. She's been studying them for more than 20 years.
Recently, when she came to understand how colonies of harvester ants regulate foraging, that is, how they decide how fast to send out ant to gather food, she thought that the ant algorithm could apply to other types of networks. She went to Stanford's Computer Science & Engineering professor, Balaji Prabhabar, with her idea to set up a series of experiments to test the theory.
Gordon was right.
"An ant colony, like many other complex systems, works without any central control. There’s no one in charge, nobody tells the ants what to do, and they have to use the information they get from local interactions to decide what to do", Deborah said.
"What the Internet and the Anternet have in common is the algorithm itself that is used by senders of data", Prabhakar said.