Radhika Nagpal at #NeurIPS2021: the collective intelligence of military ants


ants walking up a tree

The thirty fifth convention on Neural Info Processing Techniques (NeurIPS2021) featured eight invited talks. On this submit, we give a flavour of the ultimate presentation.

The collective intelligence of military ants, and the robots they encourage

Radhika Nagpal

Radhika’s analysis focusses on collective intelligence, with the overarching objective being to grasp how massive teams of people, with native interplay guidelines, can cooperate to realize globally complicated behaviour. These are fascinating methods. Every particular person is miniscule in comparison with the large phenomena that they create, and, with a restricted view of the actions of the remainder of the swarm, they obtain putting coordination.

collective intelligence from an algorithmic point-of-view, the phenomenon emerges from many people interacting utilizing easy guidelines. When run by these massive, decentralised teams, these easy guidelines end in extremely smart behaviour.

The topic of Radhika’s discuss was military ants, a species which spectacularly reveal collective intelligence. With none chief, hundreds of thousands of ants work collectively to self-assemble nests and construct bridge buildings utilizing their very own our bodies.

One specific side of research involved self-assembly of such bridges. Radhika’s analysis group, which comprised three roboticists and two biologists, discovered that the ants created bridges adapt to site visitors stream and terrain. The ants additionally disassembled the bridge when the stream of ants had stopped and it wasn’t wanted any extra.

The group proposed the next easy speculation to clarify this behaviour utilizing native guidelines: if an ant is strolling alongside, and experiences congestion (i.e. one other ant steps on it), then it turns into stationary and turns right into a bridge, permitting different ants to stroll over it. Then, if no ants are strolling on it any extra, it could rise up and depart.

These observations, and this speculation, led the group to contemplate two analysis questions:

  • Might they construct a robotic swarm with smooth robots that may self-assemble amorphous buildings, similar to the ant bridges?
  • Might they formulate guidelines which allowed these robots to self-assemble short-term and adaptive bridge buildings?

There have been two motivations for these questions. Firstly, the objective of transferring nearer to realising robotic swarms that may remedy issues in a specific setting. Secondly, using an artificial system to raised perceive the collective intelligence of military ants.

Screenshot from Radhika's talkScreenshot from Radhika’s discuss

Radhika confirmed an illustration of the smooth robotic designed by her group. It has two ft and a smooth physique, and strikes by flipping – one foot stays hooked up, whereas the opposite detaches from the floor and flips to connect in a distinct place. This permits motion in any orientation. Upon detaching, a foot searches via area to seek out someplace to connect. Through the use of grippers on the ft that may hook onto textured surfaces, and having a stretchable Velcro pores and skin, the robots can climb over one another, just like the ants. The robotic pulses, and makes use of a vibration sensor, to detect whether or not it’s involved with one other robotic. A video demonstration of two robots interacting confirmed that they’ve efficiently created a system that may recreate the easy speculation outlined above.

With a view to examine the high-level properties of military ant bridges, which might require an enormous variety of robots, the group created a simulation. Modelling the ants to have the identical traits as their bodily robots, they have been in a position to replicate the excessive stage properties of military ant bridges with their hypothesized guidelines.

You possibly can learn the round-ups of the opposite NeurIPS invited talks at these hyperlinks:
#NeurIPS2021 invited talks round-up: half one – Duolingo, the banality of scale and estimating the imply
#NeurIPS2021 invited talks round-up: half two – benign overfitting, optimum transport, and human and machine intelligence

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Lucy Smith
is Managing Editor for AIhub.