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In the era of instant messaging, I know this would sound awkward to you all. From Borneo to India, from Chile to Russia, over the years I have received postcards from friends all over the world. Just for curiosity, I specially love those coming from very remote locations. In 1995 I have even once send a postcard to myself, while being at the Nepalese-Tibet border. Being at 6450 meters high in the Himalayan range (Kathmandu was 5000 meters bellow me in the “valley”!) I decided to check how many days my postcard will take to arrive in Paris (back then I was living there). I knew that my postcard will need a few hours from Kathmandu to Paris via airplane (though I did not ask for air mail on purpose), however the problem was to arrive in Kathmandu at all. After spending 3 months in Nepal, India, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia I finally returned to Paris and to my surprise the little postcard needed just 1 month and 7 days to arrive from the top of the world into Europe. Anyway, that was my record at that time.
Well, today that record as just been beaten! A few hours ago, I received a postcard coming from… Rothera Research station – British Antarctica Survey (67º34´S, 68º07´W): Adelaide Island, Grahamaland. Yes, in Antarctica! How come?! Let me start by the beginning. From time to time I enjoy playing chess online at GameKnot (not these last months though, due to a lot of work). Over GameKnot I have played chess against, from Theoretical Physicists in Germany up to Taxi drivers in New York (one of my best online chats ever), from steel workers in Denmark up to American soldiers fighting over Iraq. About 4 months ago I played chess against Ian MacNab. Ian is the chief scientific expedition guide from the British Rothera research station. So while playing a game with him (at that time he was enduring the long cold Antarctica night) I decided to challenge him also with a postcard correspondence experience. Ian replied me back online saying that postal correspondence with Rothera was extremely difficult, since it’s mainly done through sporadic research ships, while they could only arrive when ice allows. So, I am glad he now writes: […] It’s summer here now – lot’s of sun, it will soon be 24 hours of daylight! […].
Ian’s “chessman – Antarctica guide” postcard was shipped on Oct. 1, when the winter in Antarctica officially ends. It arrived today from the South Pole, constituting a new postal record, at least for me: 1 month and 19 days long. It’s now time to reply him back with a warm Lisbon postcard. But I wonder if it will not take longer? After all, somehow distributed, postal services around the world would have to collectively cooperate and digest this “weird” address, deciding a optimal path into Rothera. Through Chile, Argentina, or maybe South Africa. Who knows? Anyway, thanks to postal services around the world, Ian will now receive along with text, a hard, difficult nevertheless funny chess problem on the back of my postcard!
Figure – A sequential clustering task of corpses performed by a real ant colony. In here 1500 corpses are randomly located in a circular arena with radius = 25 cm, where Messor Sancta workers are present. The figure shows the initial state (above), 2 hours, 6 hours and 26 hours (below) after the beginning of the experiment (from: Bonabeau E., M. Dorigo, G. Théraulaz. Swarm Intelligence: From Natural to Artificial Systems. Santa Fe Institute in the Sciences of the Complexity, Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford, 1999).
The following research paper exploits precisely this phenomena into digital data.
 Vitorino Ramos, Fernando Muge, Pedro Pina, Self-Organized Data and Image Retrieval as a Consequence of Inter-Dynamic Synergistic Relationships in Artificial Ant Colonies, in Javier Ruiz-del-Solar, Ajith Abraham and Mario Köppen (Eds.), Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications, Soft Computing Systems – Design, Management and Applications, 2nd Int. Conf. on Hybrid Intelligent Systems, IOS Press, Vol. 87, ISBN 1 5860 32976, pp. 500-509, Santiago, Chile, Dec. 2002.
Social insects provide us with a powerful metaphor to create decentralized systems of simple interacting, and often mobile, agents. The emergent collective intelligence of social insects “swarm intelligence” resides not in complex individual abilities but rather in networks of interactions that exist among individuals and between individuals and their environment. The study of ant colonies behavior and of their self-organizing capabilities is of interest to knowledge retrieval/ management and decision support systems sciences, because it provides models of distributed adaptive organization which are useful to solve difficult optimization, classification, and distributed control problems, among others. In the present work we overview some models derived from the observation of real ants, emphasizing the role played by stigmergy as distributed communication paradigm, and we present a novel strategy (ACLUSTER) to tackle unsupervised data exploratory analysis as well as data retrieval problems. Moreover and according to our knowledge, this is also the first application of ant systems into digital image retrieval problems. Nevertheless, the present algorithm could be applied to any type of numeric data.
(to obtain the respective PDF file follow link above or visit chemoton.org)