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Toothbrushes, BristleBots, and the Nature of Intelligence


The collective behaviour of insects is one of the wonders of nature. In particular, many species of termite somehow join forces to create the most extraordinary mounds–complex structures with interconnecting tunnels and caverns that can stretch underground over many tens of metres.

How they organise this behaviour is one of the great mysteries of modern science. Various theories propose that the behaviour emerges from the way insects communicate with each other or even from a kind of social intelligence.

Today, Luca Giomi and pals at Harvard University in Cambridge provide a hint that the answer could be much simpler and significantly stranger even than that. They say complex collective behaviour emerges from the mechanics of moving through an environment. In other words, no special communication, social rules or group intelligence is required.

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