Friday, December 10, 2010

Slavemaker Ants Are Von Neuman-Morgenstern Rational Agents

Ants enslave the strong not weak report Ella Davies in BBC Earth News (November 8).


“Slavemaker ants prefer to target the strong over the weak when seeking new servants, researchers have found.
Ants were observed actively choosing to attack larger, better defended colonies over smaller, weaker ones.
Scientists suggest that the intelligent ants identify strong defences as a sign of a strong population.
By conducting fewer raids on strongly defended targets, the slave-making ants actually limit the risks and come away with the most pupae to enslave.”

The reason is, according to a research conducted by Sebastian Pohl, a biologist, and his colleague Susanne Foitzik, a professor of behavioral ecology, both at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich, Germany, reported in a recent issue of the journal Animal Behaviour, that it is essential that scouts make the right decision about suitable raid targets or "host colonies" without being discovered and attacked.

"Losing a single (scout) worker might very likely be synonymous with losing half of the colony members," Mr Pohl told the BBC. Therefore, a smaller number of scouting events and subsequent raids present the lowest risk to the slavemaker colony. However, the colony still needs new slaves to be able to survive to the next season.

From their behaviour, researchers suggested that the scout ants associated strong colonies with high numbers of pupae and a high benefit. The tactic of fewer raids on stronger targets consequently offered the best risk to benefit ratio.

My comment: This behaviour is typical of Von Neuman and Morgenstern rational agents! In other terms they maximize expected, risk-adjusted utility in an uncertain and dangerous world.
Now if ants can be that sophisticated, why couldn’t human beings be at least as rational?

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