Adaptiveness of Self-organized Collective Decision Making

Prinicipal Investigators: Bernd Meyer and Audrey Dussutour

Groups of humans or animals often make decisions collectively without any central control or coordination. The paradigmatic example of self-organized groups are colonies of social insects, such as ants, termites, and (some species of) bees and wasps, whose strikingly organized and seemingly purposeful behavior at the group level is organized without any central “master plan”. An ant colony’s activities, such as coordinated attack when threatened or the building of complex trail networks, require elaborate coordination and decision making. Yet, despite the involvement of up to millions of individuals, there is no leader making the decisions: the complex behavior at the colony level emerges from simple interactions between myriads of individuals that only process local information.

Many aspects of self-organized phenomena in nature can be better understood from the viewpoint of information processing. Natural computation studies such phenomena as computational processes and uses information theory to explain their behavior.

Self-organized behavior exhibits a number of properties that are highly desirable in technical applications, specifically robustness, adaptiveness and parallelism. Hence, social insect behavior has been used as an inspiration for a wide range of engineering tasks. Among the most important examples of so-called “Swarm Intelligence” applications are ant colony optimization, a method for combinatorial optimization, swarm robotics andnetwork routing.

We are specifically interested in the adaptiveness of self-organized systems, i.e. their ability to “reorganize” in order to adapt to a changing environment.

Our work is focused on theoretical aspects and mainly concerned with understanding real biological systems, in particular ant colonies and slime molds. We also use the insights gained from the study of self-organizing systems in biology to develop new solutions to computational problems, specifically self-organising algorithms for computationally hard combinatorial optimization problems. Our work relies on stochastic modelling techniques and high performance simulation methods developed in a sister project.

This work is funded by the Australian Research Council and conducted in close collaboration with the Research Centre on Animal Cognition at the Universite Paul Sabatier (Toulouse), the Behavior and Genetics of Social Insects Lab and the Center for Mathematical Biology at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney

Selected publications:

  • Jonathan Mullins, Bernd Meyer, and Patrick Hu. Collective robot navigation using diffusion limited aggregation. In International Conference on Parallel Problem Solving from Nature (PPSN-XII), Taormina, Sicily, September 2012.
  • Matthias Vigelius and Bernd Meyer. Towards accessible tera-scale individual-based simulations of collective behaviour. In European Conference on Complex Systems (ECCS), Vienna, September 2011.
  • Bernd Meyer, Cedrick Ansorge, and Toshiyuki Nakagaki. Estimation of time-variant risks by the slime mold Physarum polycephalum. In European Conference on Complex Systems (ECCS), Lisbon, September 2010. Best Paper Awards – Special Mention.
  • Heiko Hamann, Bernd Meyer, Thomas Schmickl, and Karl Crailsheim. A model of symmetry breaking in collective decision-making. In Simulation of Adaptive Behavior (SAB), Paris, August 2010.
  • Audrey Dussutour, Madeleine Beekman, Stamatios C. Nicolis, and Bernd Meyer. Noise improves collective decision-making by ants in dynamic environments. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 276:4353-4361; December 22, 2009, doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.1235This paper is recommended by the “Faculty of 1000”: see this link
  • Bernd Meyer, Madeleine Beekman, and Audrey Dussutour. Noise-induced adaptive decision-making in ant-foraging. Simulation of Adaptive Behavior (SAB), Osaka, July 2008. Preprint available here
  • Bernd Meyer. A tale of two wells: Noise-induced adaptiveness in self-organized systems. Winner of the Best Paper Award at the IEEE International Conference on Self-Adaptive and Self-Organizing Systems, Venice, October 2008.
  • Stamatios C. Nicolis and Audrey Dussutour. Self-organization, collective decision making and source exploitation strategies in social insects. In The European Physical Journal B. In press, accepted July 1, 2008.

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