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Bat swarms and game AI aside, what are the real world applications of something like this? It strikes me as significantly less useful than say a neural net.

Au contraire, these [swarms can be very useful](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarm_intelligence). No one machine learning algorithm is best for all tasks. With current state-of-the-art technology, a human must choose the most appropriate algorithm by using what you could consider a priori knowledge about the task.

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