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Table 3 Ants foraging for food

From: Designing the digital organization

A queen ant lays the eggs that establishes the colony. She gives the ants their innate characteristics but does not directly control and coordinate what they do. Worker ants operate according to a set of processes and communication protocols that enable them to self-organize their work. For instance, when an ant finds food, it releases pheromones on the way back to the nest. The scent is a signal that mobilizes other worker ants to follow the chemical traces to the food source. They then collect and transport food in efficient columns back to the nest until the food source is empty. When there is no more food to collect, the ants stop releasing pheromones as they return to the nest. The scent weakens, and the ants start exploring new terrain to find more food.
This example includes the core elements of the actor-oriented architecture. The actors in the ant organization are the queen, workers, drones, and soldiers (Buckingham, 1911; Gordon, 2014), all of whom have different capabilities. The queen is the one who starts the colony and lays all the eggs. Drones are male ants who do not perform any work in the colony; their sole function is to fertilize a new queen. Soldier ants defend the nest. Worker ants perform a variety of tasks including nest building and maintenance as well as food foraging, and they coordinate by using pheromones as communication protocols. In food foraging, the worker ants search randomly for food in the absence of a nearby pheromone trail, drop pheromones on the way back to the nest while carrying food, and follow a pheromone trail to a food source. Thus, pheromone trails provide the ants with a shared situation awareness of food sources. The worker ants each contribute to updating the situation awareness, and they all use this commons to determine their own behavior. Updating and using the pheromone trail for navigation is part of the ants’ collaborative capabilities.