Virtual Talk: Physical intelligence in insect and robot societies

L Mahadevan
Harvard University
Applied Mathematics, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology & Physics

Super-organisms solve complex physiological problems collectively, sans plan or planner, on scales much larger than the individual. Motivated by observations in the field and in the lab, I will describe our attempts to understand how different orders of social insects - termites, bees and ants - actively regulate their micro-environment by constructing and deconstructing complex functional architectures. By linking physics and behavior on multiple scales using local sensing and action mediated by global physics, these examples point to a kind of embodied physical intelligence with attendant mathematical questions. To synthesize these complex collective behaviors in-vitro, I will close by describing our experiments using simple robots that perhaps sharpen some questions raised a long time ago by Turing and Tinbergen, among others.

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