full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Deborah Gordon: Inside the ant colony

Unscramble the Blue Letters

Think about all the things that need to happen for a human settlement to thrive: obtaining food, building shelter, raising children and more. There needs to be a way to didvie ruoseercs, organize major eftfros and distribute labor efficiently. Now imagine having to do this without any sort of planning or higher level communication. Welcome to the ant colony. Ants have some of the most complex social oogatirnzain in the aaniml kingdom, living in scrtrtueud colonies containing different types of members who perform specific roles. But although this may sound silaimr to some human societies, this organization doesn't arise from any higher level decisions, but is part of a biologically programmed cycle. In many scpeies, all the winged melas and winged virgin queens from all the nearby colonies in the population each leave from their different nests and meet at a craetnl place to mate, using pheromones to guide each other to a breeding ground. After mating, the males die off, while females try to easbislth a new colony. The few that are sucsfcusel settle down in a suitable spot, lose their wigns, and begin laying eggs, selectively fertilizing some using stored sperm they've sevad up from mating. Fertilized eggs grow into female workers who care for the queen and her eggs. They will then defend the colony and forage for food, while unfertilized eggs grow into males whose only job is to wait until they are ready to leave the nest and reproduce, beginning the cycle again. So how do worker ants dcidee what to do and when? Well, they don't really. Although they have no methods of intentional cotaniumcmion, individual ants do icnrtaet with one another through tcouh, snoud and chemical signals. These stimuli accomplish many things from svnireg as an alarm to other ants if one is killed, to signaling when a queen is nearing the end of her rreivutocpde life. But one of the most impressive collective capabilities of an ant colony is to thoroughly and efficiently explore large areas without any predetermined plan. Most species of ants have little or no sense of sight and can only smell things in their vitniicy. cbimoned with their lack of high level coordination, this would seem to make them terrible explorers, but there is an amlgzainy simple way that ants maximize their searching efficiency; by cigahnng their movement patterns baesd on iaivnidudl itnncroiaets. When two ants meet, they sense each other by touching antennae. If there are many ants in a small area this will happen more often causing them to respond by moving in more convoluted, random paths in order to search more thoroughly. But in a laregr area, with less ants, where such meetings happen less often, they can walk in straight lines to cover more gnroud. While exploring their environment in this way, an ant may come across any number of things, from threats or enemies, to anletrate nesting sites. And some species have another capability known as recruitment. When one of these ants happens to find food, it will return with it, marking its path with a chemical scent. Other ants will then follow this pheromone trial, renewing it each time they mngaae to find food and return. Once the food in that spot is depleted, the ants stop mriknag their return. The scent dissipates and ants are no longer attracted to that path. These seemingly crude methods of search and retrieval are, in fact, so useful that they are applied in computer models to otiban optimal sooltiuns from decentralized elteenms, working randomly and exchanging simple information. This has many taoceitrhel and paarcticl applications, from solving the famous traveling salesman problem, to scheduling coitmpnug tsaks and optimizing Internet searches, to enabling groups of rbotos to search a minefield or a burning building collectively, without any central control. But you can ovsebre these fascinatingly simple, yet effective, processes directly through some simple experiments, by allowing ants to enetr empty spaces of various sizes and pnyaig attoenitn to their behavior. Ants may not be able to vote, hold meetings or even make any plans, but we humans may still be able to learn something from the way that such simple creatures are able to function so effectively in such complex ways.

Open Cloze

Think about all the things that need to happen for a human settlement to thrive: obtaining food, building shelter, raising children and more. There needs to be a way to ______ _________, organize major _______ and distribute labor efficiently. Now imagine having to do this without any sort of planning or higher level communication. Welcome to the ant colony. Ants have some of the most complex social ____________ in the ______ kingdom, living in __________ colonies containing different types of members who perform specific roles. But although this may sound _______ to some human societies, this organization doesn't arise from any higher level decisions, but is part of a biologically programmed cycle. In many _______, all the winged _____ and winged virgin queens from all the nearby colonies in the population each leave from their different nests and meet at a _______ place to mate, using pheromones to guide each other to a breeding ground. After mating, the males die off, while females try to _________ a new colony. The few that are __________ settle down in a suitable spot, lose their _____, and begin laying eggs, selectively fertilizing some using stored sperm they've _____ up from mating. Fertilized eggs grow into female workers who care for the queen and her eggs. They will then defend the colony and forage for food, while unfertilized eggs grow into males whose only job is to wait until they are ready to leave the nest and reproduce, beginning the cycle again. So how do worker ants ______ what to do and when? Well, they don't really. Although they have no methods of intentional _____________, individual ants do ________ with one another through _____, _____ and chemical signals. These stimuli accomplish many things from _______ as an alarm to other ants if one is killed, to signaling when a queen is nearing the end of her ____________ life. But one of the most impressive collective capabilities of an ant colony is to thoroughly and efficiently explore large areas without any predetermined plan. Most species of ants have little or no sense of sight and can only smell things in their ________. ________ with their lack of high level coordination, this would seem to make them terrible explorers, but there is an _________ simple way that ants maximize their searching efficiency; by ________ their movement patterns _____ on __________ ____________. When two ants meet, they sense each other by touching antennae. If there are many ants in a small area this will happen more often causing them to respond by moving in more convoluted, random paths in order to search more thoroughly. But in a ______ area, with less ants, where such meetings happen less often, they can walk in straight lines to cover more ______. While exploring their environment in this way, an ant may come across any number of things, from threats or enemies, to _________ nesting sites. And some species have another capability known as recruitment. When one of these ants happens to find food, it will return with it, marking its path with a chemical scent. Other ants will then follow this pheromone _____, renewing it each time they ______ to find food and return. Once the food in that spot is depleted, the ants stop _______ their return. The scent dissipates and ants are no longer attracted to that path. These seemingly crude methods of search and retrieval are, in fact, so useful that they are applied in computer models to ______ optimal _________ from decentralized ________, working randomly and exchanging simple information. This has many ___________ and _________ applications, from solving the famous traveling salesman problem, to scheduling _________ _____ and optimizing Internet searches, to enabling groups of ______ to search a minefield or a burning building collectively, without any central control. But you can _______ these fascinatingly simple, yet effective, processes directly through some simple experiments, by allowing ants to _____ empty spaces of various sizes and ______ _________ to their behavior. Ants may not be able to vote, hold meetings or even make any plans, but we humans may still be able to learn something from the way that such simple creatures are able to function so effectively in such complex ways.

Solution

  1. trail
  2. saved
  3. alternate
  4. larger
  5. interactions
  6. decide
  7. amazingly
  8. individual
  9. communication
  10. animal
  11. divide
  12. interact
  13. robots
  14. males
  15. structured
  16. organization
  17. solutions
  18. central
  19. manage
  20. sound
  21. efforts
  22. based
  23. combined
  24. establish
  25. serving
  26. attention
  27. practical
  28. touch
  29. vicinity
  30. ground
  31. reproductive
  32. wings
  33. similar
  34. species
  35. obtain
  36. marking
  37. theoretical
  38. tasks
  39. paying
  40. observe
  41. elements
  42. changing
  43. enter
  44. resources
  45. successful
  46. computing

Original Text

Think about all the things that need to happen for a human settlement to thrive: obtaining food, building shelter, raising children and more. There needs to be a way to divide resources, organize major efforts and distribute labor efficiently. Now imagine having to do this without any sort of planning or higher level communication. Welcome to the ant colony. Ants have some of the most complex social organization in the animal kingdom, living in structured colonies containing different types of members who perform specific roles. But although this may sound similar to some human societies, this organization doesn't arise from any higher level decisions, but is part of a biologically programmed cycle. In many species, all the winged males and winged virgin queens from all the nearby colonies in the population each leave from their different nests and meet at a central place to mate, using pheromones to guide each other to a breeding ground. After mating, the males die off, while females try to establish a new colony. The few that are successful settle down in a suitable spot, lose their wings, and begin laying eggs, selectively fertilizing some using stored sperm they've saved up from mating. Fertilized eggs grow into female workers who care for the queen and her eggs. They will then defend the colony and forage for food, while unfertilized eggs grow into males whose only job is to wait until they are ready to leave the nest and reproduce, beginning the cycle again. So how do worker ants decide what to do and when? Well, they don't really. Although they have no methods of intentional communication, individual ants do interact with one another through touch, sound and chemical signals. These stimuli accomplish many things from serving as an alarm to other ants if one is killed, to signaling when a queen is nearing the end of her reproductive life. But one of the most impressive collective capabilities of an ant colony is to thoroughly and efficiently explore large areas without any predetermined plan. Most species of ants have little or no sense of sight and can only smell things in their vicinity. Combined with their lack of high level coordination, this would seem to make them terrible explorers, but there is an amazingly simple way that ants maximize their searching efficiency; by changing their movement patterns based on individual interactions. When two ants meet, they sense each other by touching antennae. If there are many ants in a small area this will happen more often causing them to respond by moving in more convoluted, random paths in order to search more thoroughly. But in a larger area, with less ants, where such meetings happen less often, they can walk in straight lines to cover more ground. While exploring their environment in this way, an ant may come across any number of things, from threats or enemies, to alternate nesting sites. And some species have another capability known as recruitment. When one of these ants happens to find food, it will return with it, marking its path with a chemical scent. Other ants will then follow this pheromone trail, renewing it each time they manage to find food and return. Once the food in that spot is depleted, the ants stop marking their return. The scent dissipates and ants are no longer attracted to that path. These seemingly crude methods of search and retrieval are, in fact, so useful that they are applied in computer models to obtain optimal solutions from decentralized elements, working randomly and exchanging simple information. This has many theoretical and practical applications, from solving the famous traveling salesman problem, to scheduling computing tasks and optimizing Internet searches, to enabling groups of robots to search a minefield or a burning building collectively, without any central control. But you can observe these fascinatingly simple, yet effective, processes directly through some simple experiments, by allowing ants to enter empty spaces of various sizes and paying attention to their behavior. Ants may not be able to vote, hold meetings or even make any plans, but we humans may still be able to learn something from the way that such simple creatures are able to function so effectively in such complex ways.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
higher level 2
ant colony 2
eggs grow 2

Important Words

  1. accomplish
  2. alarm
  3. allowing
  4. alternate
  5. amazingly
  6. animal
  7. ant
  8. antennae
  9. ants
  10. applications
  11. applied
  12. area
  13. areas
  14. arise
  15. attention
  16. attracted
  17. based
  18. beginning
  19. behavior
  20. biologically
  21. breeding
  22. building
  23. burning
  24. capabilities
  25. capability
  26. care
  27. causing
  28. central
  29. changing
  30. chemical
  31. children
  32. collective
  33. collectively
  34. colonies
  35. colony
  36. combined
  37. communication
  38. complex
  39. computer
  40. computing
  41. control
  42. convoluted
  43. coordination
  44. cover
  45. creatures
  46. crude
  47. cycle
  48. decentralized
  49. decide
  50. decisions
  51. defend
  52. depleted
  53. die
  54. dissipates
  55. distribute
  56. divide
  57. effective
  58. effectively
  59. efficiently
  60. efforts
  61. eggs
  62. elements
  63. empty
  64. enabling
  65. enemies
  66. enter
  67. environment
  68. establish
  69. exchanging
  70. experiments
  71. explore
  72. explorers
  73. exploring
  74. fact
  75. famous
  76. fascinatingly
  77. female
  78. females
  79. fertilized
  80. fertilizing
  81. find
  82. follow
  83. food
  84. forage
  85. function
  86. ground
  87. groups
  88. grow
  89. guide
  90. happen
  91. high
  92. higher
  93. hold
  94. human
  95. humans
  96. imagine
  97. impressive
  98. individual
  99. information
  100. intentional
  101. interact
  102. interactions
  103. internet
  104. job
  105. killed
  106. kingdom
  107. labor
  108. lack
  109. large
  110. larger
  111. laying
  112. learn
  113. leave
  114. level
  115. life
  116. lines
  117. living
  118. longer
  119. lose
  120. major
  121. males
  122. manage
  123. marking
  124. mate
  125. mating
  126. maximize
  127. meet
  128. meetings
  129. members
  130. methods
  131. minefield
  132. models
  133. movement
  134. moving
  135. nearby
  136. nearing
  137. nest
  138. nesting
  139. nests
  140. number
  141. observe
  142. obtain
  143. obtaining
  144. optimal
  145. optimizing
  146. order
  147. organization
  148. organize
  149. part
  150. path
  151. paths
  152. patterns
  153. paying
  154. perform
  155. pheromone
  156. pheromones
  157. place
  158. plan
  159. planning
  160. plans
  161. population
  162. practical
  163. predetermined
  164. problem
  165. processes
  166. programmed
  167. queen
  168. queens
  169. raising
  170. random
  171. randomly
  172. ready
  173. recruitment
  174. renewing
  175. reproduce
  176. reproductive
  177. resources
  178. respond
  179. retrieval
  180. return
  181. robots
  182. roles
  183. salesman
  184. saved
  185. scent
  186. scheduling
  187. search
  188. searches
  189. searching
  190. seemingly
  191. selectively
  192. sense
  193. serving
  194. settle
  195. settlement
  196. shelter
  197. sight
  198. signaling
  199. signals
  200. similar
  201. simple
  202. sites
  203. sizes
  204. small
  205. smell
  206. social
  207. societies
  208. solutions
  209. solving
  210. sort
  211. sound
  212. spaces
  213. species
  214. specific
  215. sperm
  216. spot
  217. stimuli
  218. stop
  219. stored
  220. straight
  221. structured
  222. successful
  223. suitable
  224. tasks
  225. terrible
  226. theoretical
  227. threats
  228. time
  229. touch
  230. touching
  231. trail
  232. traveling
  233. types
  234. unfertilized
  235. vicinity
  236. virgin
  237. vote
  238. wait
  239. walk
  240. ways
  241. winged
  242. wings
  243. worker
  244. workers
  245. working