Pathways of collective endeavour: visualizing swarm intelligence.

 A single ant cannot be considered to be “intelligent”, but when many interact as part of a colony, intelligence arises as an emergent property of their collective communication. Within the colony, each ant follows very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual ants should behave, interactions between ants lead to the emergence of an “intelligent” global behaviour. Thus, whilst the ant colony exhibits what might be called swarm intelligence, individual ants are completely unaware of this. In this sense, an ant colony is similar to a human brain where the many neurons, each of which can only perform a limited number of processes, combine to give intelligence and consciousness. Here I developed a novel process which uses in situ fluorescent tagging to plot the accumulated footfall of the many thousands of ants within a colony so that its emergent collective intelligence is revealed. In future, I plan to selectively place food sources, so that the ants might draw figures as a child would complete a dot-to-dot picture.

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