Nature’s flawed programming

In: Fun

24 Aug 2003

I came upon this interesting tidbit in my Artificial Intelligence readings.

A sphex (a kind of wasp) will, in the process of building a nest, dig a burrow, find an insect and sting it, drag it to the burrow, enter the burrow again to inspect the nest, drag the insect inside, and lay its eggs. That, as we shall soon see, is the sphex’s built-in program for constructing a nest.

If someone (an experimenter, or some nosy kid) picks up the paralyzed insect and moves it a few inches away, the sphex’s program gets reset. The sphex now drags the insect to the burrow, and is compelled to re-enter the burrow to inspect the nest _again_, even though it has just checked. It does this even if the insect is moved away repeatedly, without the sphex ever realizing what is going on. The sphex is unable to learn that it’s program is failing, and will not change it.

“… the beetle continues on and pantomimes plugging the nest with the nonexistent ball of dung!”

Even more amusing is the dung beetle, which goes off to fetch a ball of dung to plug its nest entrance. If the ball of dung is removed from its grasp _en route_, the beetle continues on and pantomimes plugging the nest with the nonexistent ball of dung! Nature (or evolution, depending on your opinion) has built in a pretty rigid program into the beetle’s behavior.

It is interesting to discover lifeforms as large as a sphex or dung beetle that don’t have the capability of learning, of going beyond its genetically programmed behavior. Makes the _Home Sapiens_ and the thinking species (dolphins, whales, primates) all the more intriguing.

2 Responses to Nature’s flawed programming



September 1st, 2003 at 4pm

The problems for insects is their parents are always dead, so they can not rely on being taught how to handle “exceptions”, almost all of an insects behaviors or “algorithms” must be hardwired at a genetic level before they are born.

One should also consider Human babies and other “thinking species” on the other hand can not survive without parents.

The two examples are at opposite ends of a spectrum of different life strategies, and I wouldn’t say humans are more necessarily more intriguing because we think we are. ;)


Monitoring Dalager

August 24th, 2003 at 11am

Nature indeed i s buggy…
redemption in a blog: Nature’s flawed programming About the sphex (wasp-like insect) and the dung beetle. The way they’re building their nests is strictly genetically programmed, and this program has not been properly debugged. Bad design of exceptionh…