Exploiting Artificial Polyethism

Many types of insect form colonies in which each individual is a mere unit of the body politic, the latter being the important entity. Honey bees, ant and termites are good examples. A question that most of us worry about, at least for some of the time, is how do they get and stay organized, and what’s more, work hard without managers around every corner supervising who is doing what, when and where. Note: that why does not have a place in this self-organization of polyethism. (For the nerdy: polyethism just refers to the division of labor, hence there is no need for why.)

There is a report, hot of the word processor of Marriott and Gershenson (1), who have two colonies of ants inside their computer. One colony has caste polyethism, whilst the other has age polyethism. They watched their colonies thrive, or not, depending on how their food was arranged from uniform availability to little random patches spread about their RAM. They also threw in variation in season length to jazz things up a little. In technical phraseology, they were given a dynamic environment.

To cut to the chase, changing your job with age was best as it was most flexible. If you were caste as a caste member, you could not re-caste yourself and if more workers were need to get the harvest in, your queen just had to lay more for you to bring up and send out. This only worked well if the seasons were very long. On the other hand, you could be as old as you felt and lie about your age, if your polyethism was temporal, and get old quickly. Turning back the clock was never allowed, though. Of course feeling old and being old become the same thing when there is no time to play.

Leave a Reply