The first strategy I tried was simply randomness. It was pretty ineffective. A rule based one was also ineffective, as it tended to get itself into a box. But I found that adding a dose of randomness to the rule based strategy worked well.
Most computer strategies of the day cheated, or altered the rules to give an advantage to the AI. Empire didn't. I did have thoughts about creating an interface so people could provide their own AIs and then the various AIs could battle it out.
There's been a lot of research on the Life game. But I bet Empire would be a much better research platform - the rules are simple, but the game play can get pretty complex. I had a lot of fun developing AI algorithms for it. I wish the ant algorithms were known at the time, I bet they'd help!
(One of the reasons the simple rules worked so well was the pieces had a hammer-paper-scissors relationship to each other.)
Also, I second the comment about using games like that in AI research. I don't have time now to explain it in detail, bit I believe it would be much more interesting/useful than playing Star Craft or any MOBAs. It has to do with the fact how short-term decisions affect long-term gameplay. Also, it would me much easier for non-gamers to understand what exactly researchers achieved.
Another game I would love to see played by AI is M.A.X. It's rules aren't any more complex than StarCraft, but the core gameplay is much deeper without diving into weir meta-gaming scenarios.
Additionally, I'm like 75% sure I remember him mentioning Empire at a GDC talk.
Battling Amiibos in the Super Smash Bros game for the Wii U could be compared to this in a way, too.
> Empire is not a video arcade-type game. It is a thinking man's game, as it requires strategy and tactics instead of hand-eye coordination
You probably should say thinking person's game
Walter would appear to be safest with "thinking entity's game."
Then he has full coverage for men, women, intersex, asexual, androgynous, and non-human identities. His game will also still be relevant and inclusive once we've made contact with non-human extraterrestrials, and uplifted animals and machines to sentience.
> Queen ants have one of the longest life-spans of any known insect – up to 30 years.
> The fertile eggs become female worker ants and unfertilized eggs develop as males; if the fertilized eggs and pupae are well-nurtured, they potentially become queens.
> males are "quickly converted to sexual missiles."
> the queens often try to escape the males, allowing only the fastest and the fittest males to mate. Mating takes place during flight.
> One queen usually mates with several males. The sperm is stored in a special organ, known as a spermatheca, in the queen's abdomen, and lasts throughout her lifetime. This can be as long as 20 years, during which time the sperm can be used to fertilize tens of millions of eggs.
> The males have evolved for the single purpose of inseminating the queen. During "the quick and violent mating," the male literally explodes his internal genitalia into the genital chamber of the queen and quickly dies.
And, moving on to army ants.
> A nest is constructed out of the living ant workers' own bodies to protect the queen and larvae, and is later deconstructed as the ants move on.
> As many as 150,000 to 700,000 worker bodies cover and protect the queen, linking legs and bodies in a mass that measures a meter across.
> In the morning, the bivouac dissolves into raiding columns that form a fan-shaped front. These raiding columns can travel up to 20 metres per hour with lead workers laying a chemical trail for other workers to follow. Smaller workers lead the column, while larger, formidable soldiers protect the flanks.
> When the queens emerge, the workers in the colony will form two 'systems' or arms in opposite directions. These queens that are hatched will move down either the arms and only two queens will succeed, one for each branch. The remaining new queens will be left in the middle and are abandoned to die.
> The whole colony of army ants can consume up to 500,000 prey animals each day, so can have a significant influence on the population, diversity, and behavior of their prey. [...] About five species hunt in higher trees, where they can attack birds and their eggs, although they focus on hunting other social insects along with their eggs and larvae.
One interesting consequence of this is that male ants have no fathers. All of their genetic code is inherited from their mother, and there is no variation in what they pass on. This lack of variation in what fathers pass on means that two ant sisters share 75% of their chromosomes instead of the 50% you see in most other animals, which some researchers believe is the underlying cause for the high level of cooperation in ant species (eusociality).
More reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplodiploidy
Its body just happens to be physically disjoint.
Not to detract from your comment about all humans being one organism and whatnot (hell, maybe ants and our bodies operate on a different level of consciousness that as specialized intellectual creatures we typically override woooah mann). I mostly just wanted to fish for more info on this 75% thing from someone who studies DNA and can confirm my hunch - and maybe has more info on correlation between DNA similarity and cooperative behavior.
> I'm not someone who studies this stuff, but I'd wager that the 99.9% thing isn't quite the same context as the 75% thing,
> and two ants in the same colony are more similar than two humans.
It is more like 75% closer to 100% than 99.9%
What about maps? Reading maps of highly-populated and industrial locations reminds me of histology. Perhaps cities are the organs of humanity and the roads are the blood vessels...
Your analogy only works if you somehow engineered the sheep to reproduce like ants and waited for many successive generations. If the reproductive change stuck, the behavior of the sheep would presumably evolve in a way that they began behaving like a single organism, including individual sheep exhibiting extremely self-less behavior, such as how individual ants from a colony or individual cells from your body behave.
Whereas ants are instead optimised for this colony life. As are leaves of a tree, for instance, who are 100% willing to sacrifice themselves.
Ants can dive  and swim , and in mangrove forests adapted to survive extended periods with low O2 during flooding .
Some species have established ritual fights to solve territorial conflict  and while they are known to be fiercely territorial, there are species who defy the rule and fuse nests after intense fighting , or form mega colonies without hostility to strangers across globes - one of these mega colonies being located along the coast of California .
I went down the rabbit hole one day and watched a few videos. It's a YouTube channel about ants, with 4K video and 2.5 million subscribers. When you watch a video, you'll know why.
This effect, where something is globally stable, even though all the individuals that make it happen are unstable is sometimes described as "a forest whose contours remain the same, as the trees all change".
Consider this algorithm for an ant colony foraging for a good source of food (this behaviour has also been observed in ants searching for a new nest site):
for each ant in the swarm
if the ant is unhappy
run to a random ant
if the random ant is happy
follow it to its location
if the random ant is unhappy
select a location at random
if the ant is happy
the ant continues to search its current location
for each ant in the swarm
the ant searches a tiny of its location, at random
if the ant finds food
the ant becomes happy
if the ant doesn't find food
the ant becomes unhappy
The aspect which captured my attention is that there are tiny changes to individual lines of the algorithm which implement diverse behaviours such as hill climbing, optimise for exploitation or exploration, and global optimisation.
The algorithm is called Stochastic Diffusion Search and I'm in the process of polishing a Python library which implements it and its many variants for a Show HN :) The repo is here https://github.com/AndrewOwenMartin/sds some info and an explanatory animation here http://www.aomartin.co.uk/sds-animation/ and an beta version is already on PyPi here https://pypi.org/project/sds/.
Contact me (email address on my profile) if you're interested in using this algorithm or contributing to the library, it needs snappy C implementations, and a better explanatory animation!
Really interesting stuff. There is code online somewhere. It's possible ant colony optimisation is dated now, I don't really know, but it's still fascinating.
I have some ideas, but what did you have in mind?
There's a repo in the description. Might not be specifically relevant to your project though
Great concept, although harder to grasp than The Selfish Gene.
It is a bit like treating the ants as stateless functions, and storing the state in the world?
Rather than say everything short of humans doesn't really "remember", I find it much more interesting to think how similar our concept of remembering (reinforced neural connections) is to phenomena we don't think of as alive like rivers or pheromone trails.
Example: the American trend of "you must finish all the food on your plate" has long outlived its origins, and has been continued on not because people consciously choose to continue so much as they dont consciously choose to STOP passing it on. Any number of social events that are not universal (tipping, suburbs vs downtown as being prosperous, etc) can be examined this way, and our reasonable but unthinking reactions to events help define our cultures. If we arent being conscious of these choices, how is this memory any different than the ants?
- - -
This type of memory can be compared to the building blocks of our memory when we look into our brains. Each neuron is basically an agent that acts on its own (comparable to an ant) - if you look into neuron behaviour, there are some pretty interesting things (e.g. they try to get to the locations where most of the activity is happening to get more energy and weaken connections based on activity - synaptic plasticity). The algorithms both employ are comparable - I see similarities between ant colonies and human brains.
The human consciousness emerges from this phenomenon - the biggest difference is that all our neurons work together to create a consciousness that is self-aware (actually, it's only a small part of the brain that creates "me"). Understanding ant colonies can be beneficial for understanding human consciousness.
https://youtu.be/TTFoJQSd48c (I don't care about the computer analogies, but the concept of individual agents acting together in the brain gets across)
I also remember a story from the US. A high-security prison was removed, its razor wire fences torn down. Years later, GPS data showed an outline of the prison. The deer were still afraid of a fence that they had never themselves seen.
Anthropologists study 'memories' left behind by ancient cultures that created artifacts. And the Earth keeps 'memories' of extinct animals in fossils ... and of geological events in rocks and landforms. DNA and epigenetics keep a 'memory' of lessons learned. Darwin 'remembered' evolution by the study of species.
There's a valuable lesson to be learned here ... what record will 'digitization' leave behind?
ACHILLES: Is Aunt Hillary your aunt, Mr. Crab?
CRAB: Oh, no, she's not really anybody's aunt.
ANTEATER: But the poor dear insists that everybody should call her that, even strangers. It's just one of her many endearing quirks.
CRAB: Yes, Aunt Hillary is quite eccentric, but such a merry old soul. It's a shame I didn't have you over to meet her last week.
ANTEATER: She's certainly one of the best-educated ant colonies I have ever had the good fortune to know. The two of us have spent many a long evening in conversation on the widest range of topics.
ACHILLES: I thought anteaters were devourers of ants, not patrons of ant-intellectualism!
ANTEATER: Well, of course the two are not mutually inconsistent. I am on the best of terms with ant colonies. It's just ants that I eat, not colonies-and that is good for both parties: me, and the colony.
- Douglas Hofstatder, "Godel, Escher and Bach"
When one observes the colony while doing any colony related function, one can see how each individual is assigned with specific function e.g. foraging, nursing etc. And suppose if you remove these ants, there will be a new set of individuals doing that function. Somewhat similar to the neurons of brain. (One has to compare the extent of similarities.)
PS: I used to do research with ants. My master’s thesis was on colony cohesion. What are the factors important for the cohesion? I have looked at few aspects (physical) of this.