How ants have used the Internet's TCP algorithms for ages

By on August 30, 2012, 10:00 AM

We all know ants are extremely smart creatures that are capable of solving complex problems but as it turns out, these tiny insects could have taught us a thing or two about how to build the Internet. Research from Stanford professor of computer science Balaji Prabhakar and biology professor Deborah Gordon indicates that ants use a series of algorithms that are nearly identical to those found in the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

Harvester ants send out foragers to determine how much food, or bandwidth, is available. If these ants are slow to return or come back empty-handed, the search for edibles is usually slowed or called off. If they return quickly, this means there is plenty of food available and more ants are dispatched.

This is similar to how the Internet’s TCP feedback loop works. Packets are sent out from a source to a destination with an acknowledgement, or ack, sent back to the source once a packet has been received by the destination. If the ack returns quickly then data transmission is throttled upward accordingly.

The team wrote an algorithm that would predict how the forager ants behaved based on the amount of food available. They discovered that the TCP-influenced algorithm almost always matched the ants behavior in the experiement.

Harvester ants closely follow two other types of TCP algorithms as well. One is called the slow start where a large number of packets are dispatched to determine how much bandwidth is available. Ants also send out a large number of foragers to check on food availability before adjusting the number of foragers up or down accordingly.

The other protocol that researchers discovered mirrors a time-out which happens when packets are sent out but an ack is never received back. Similarly, if forager ants go out in search of food and don’t return within 20 minutes, the search is called off and no other ants are permitted to leave the nest.

Prabhakar believes that if this behavior had been discovered in the 1970s before TCP was created, it could have helped influence the design of the Internet as we know it today.




User Comments: 25

Got something to say? Post a comment
Guest said:

Proverbs 30:25

There are four things that are the smallest of the earth, but they are instinctively wise:25the ants are a people not strong, and yet in the summer they prepare their food

Proverbs 6:6

6Go to the ant, you lazy one; see its ways and become wise.7Although it has no commander, officer or ruler,8it prepares its food even in the summer; it has gathered its food supplies even in the harvest.9How long, you lazy one, will you keep lying down? When will you rise up from your sleep?10A little more sleep, a little more slumbering, a little more folding of the hands in lying down,11and your poverty will certainly come just like some rover, and your want like an armed man

Guest said:

Ants: "Sorry, humans. We have discovered internet long before you know how to create fire, maybe.."

1 person liked this | MilwaukeeMike said:

So ants have common sense. That is remarkable, considering how many people lack it. Ants efficiently save food for rough times. People wastefully spend money they don't have. You could argue ants are the smarter species.

Guest said:

That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

:)

H3llion H3llion, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Yet we believe we are "Intelligent" to a type 3 civilization we would be seen as puny men, "simple" ants.

1 person liked this | Camikazi said:

Yet we believe we are "Intelligent" to a type 3 civilization we would be seen as puny men, "simple" ants.

Type 2 would see us as puny men, type 3 would see us as ants :P

1 person liked this | VitalyT VitalyT said:

Smarter than my cat shitting in corners...

Zeromus said:

There's also something similar that logistics algorithms use that comes from ants.

H3llion H3llion, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Smarter than my cat shitting in corners...

Cats are superstitious, you just wait until they get their peace of the world! Wait they have most of us under their paws already, acting all cute and shiii...

Krazo said:

Ants use the path of least resistance to get where they want to be...so does any other part of nature, including humans and electricity. The trial is in the transfer and blockages. All living things are relatively intelligent.... everything is relative....:eek: I need to hit my pipe, again.:eek::eek:

Guest said:

Ants have the internet before we do ?

They are a threat to our species then ! Smash ants ! Me smash ants !

R3DP3NGUIN R3DP3NGUIN said:

You want to be a Network admin??? then forget about learning Cisco .etc. start thinking like an Ant!

jackal2687 said:

Jersey Shore is being cancelled so common sense is surely making a comeback.

imranmuhd2000 imranmuhd2000 said:

Qur'an (Chapter of The Ants 27:17 - 19).

And there were gathered before Sulaiman (Solomon) his hosts of jinns and men, and birds, and they all were set in battle order (marching forwards).

Till, when they came to the valley of the ants, one of the ants said: "O ants! Enter your dwellings, lest Sulaiman (Solomon) and his hosts crush you, while they perceive not."

So he [Sulaiman (Solomon)] smiled, amused at her speech and said: "My Lord! Inspire and bestow upon me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favours which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You, and admit me by Your Mercy among Your righteous slaves."

1 person liked this | ikesmasher said:

I dont understand how this is a news story...Isnt that just common sense? if we take a while and have no food, theres no food to be found, amirite?

techpoppin techpoppin said:

Smarter than my cat shitting in corners...

On the floor laughing... Duce duuuce

Doctor John Doctor John said:

I dont understand how this is a news story...Isnt that just common sense? if we take a while and have no food, theres no food to be found, amirite?

Yes! agreed (also, I think something is wrong with the interpretation of cause & effect in this article, surely the story, such as it is, is that TCP/IP and ant-logic are both simple feedback processes, this does NOT make the ant system equivalent to TCP/IP!) Help!

boybrushdred boybrushdred said:

I dont understand how this is a news story...Isnt that just common sense? if we take a while and have no food, theres no food to be found, amirite?
could have been a slow day for the news team

Khanonate said:

Could have been a slow day for the news team

Amen! (Yikes, all these comments from the Bible is affecting me!)

Guest said:

The so slim budget of universities could be better spend than studying ants.

The result of research is completely useless if not an reverse analogy of TCP transported to insects world.

Studying for example why the honey with no preservative what so ever can stay for thousand years without going bad , could help better us in the food industry for preserving food without chemicals.

Waste of time and money.....

Guest said:

¿wrong forum?

mooney12 mooney12 said:

What is with all the bible verses

Guest said:

I think the ants are building Skynet. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Guest said:

I think everyone here is missing the point, Nature itself, what makes plants grow, animals hibernate, and ants harvest is all run by certain mathematic codes, algorithms, etc... Only a specie with intelligence like us can crack these phenomenons in nature. Ants dont understand what they are doing, it is simply their nature to do it according to the laws of nature, it is through their subconsious actions they can achieve these things we sit back and look at in awe. It is amazing that we humans, just another creature on this planet can figure out natures code and incorporate it into our own lives through the use of artificial things like the internet.

Guest said:

I think everyone here is missing the point, Nature itself, what makes plants grow, animals hibernate, and ants harvest is all run by certain mathematic codes, algorithms, etc... Only a specie with intelligence like us can crack these phenomenons in nature. Ants dont understand what they are doing, it is simply their nature to do it according to the laws of nature, it is through their subconsious actions they can achieve these things we sit back and look at in awe. It is amazing that we humans, just another creature on this planet can figure out natures code and incorporate it into our own lives through the use of artificial things like the internet.

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.