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"Go to the ant and be wise"

So said Solomon the Wise.


Consider this. Childcare, cultivation, farming, climate control, communication, defence, career planning, engineering, security, flood control, civic duties..... We are not talking about an advanced human society. We are talking about ants.


Myrmecologists, the scientists who study ants, have shown us such a fascinating world. An inter-disciplinary team at the University of Sheffield is studying ants while working on the making transport systems more effective. Dynamic optimisation as it is called is the main challenge. Simple all powerful computer programs find it difficult cope with numerous datasets that emerge. Hence the solution is more of smaller programs or agents which work with each other to solve the problem. The inspiration came from the ants.


In fact the celebrated Bombay Dabbawala System is something like that. How do you reach hot homecooked lunch to thousands of office goers everyday at an affordable cost? Collect the lunch by 10 am from all houshold, deliver on time, collect empty boxes and deliver back home. They do this with a not-so-educated workforce travelling by public trains day-in and day-out with an astonishing error-free operation for so many years. They achieved six-sigma long before the term was explained. The solution is simplifying the problem. Simple colour codes; specilised and defined responsibilities; and an organisation run as a public trust. Amazing.


And interestingly, ants are also known for war-mongering, cannibalism and slavery! The May 2006 issue of NG has an interview with one of the foremost myrmecologists of today, EO Wilson.

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Taken on May 2, 2006