A classic example of insect stigmergy (Bonabeau et al., 1999):
The creation of a network of pheromone trails by ants.
When an ant finds food, it will leave a trail of pheromones (smell molecules) on its way back to the nest.
An ant setting out from the nest looking for food will preferentially walk along such a pheromone-marked path.
If it too finds food, it will come back along the same route leaving more pheromone. The larger the food source, the more ants will thus come back from it while adding pheromone, and thus the stronger the trace will become. The stronger the trail, the more ants will follow it to find food.
Once the food is exhausted, no more pheromone will be added and the trail will quickly evaporate. In this way, ants are efficiently steered towards the presently most promising locations for carrying out their main task: bringing food to the nest.
They need neither to individually remember locations, nor to communicate them to other ants: the pheromone network performs the function of both a shared external memory and an indirect communication medium that triggers productive action.
This complex, smart behavior arising from not-smart ants is an example of:
From the fractal patterns of snowflakes to cellular lifeforms, our universe is full of complex phenomena – but how does this complexity arise?
“Emergence” describes the ability of individual components of a large system to work together to give rise to dramatic and diverse behavior.