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蚂蚁在脑科学、癌症和互联网领域带给我们的启发 – 译学馆
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蚂蚁在脑科学、癌症和互联网领域带给我们的启发

Deborah Gordon: What ants teach us about the brain, cancer and the Internet

我研究各种蚂蚁
I study ants
沙漠中的、热带雨林里的、
in the desert, in the tropical forest
我厨房里的蚂蚁,
and in my kitchen,
以及我硅谷的家周边山上的蚂蚁。
and in the hills around Silicon Valley where I live.
最近我注意到
I’ve recently realized that ants
蚂蚁在不同的环境下
are using interactions differently
交互方式也是不同的,
in different environments,
这让我想到或许我们能从中学到些什么
and that got me thinking that we could learn from this
用到其它系统上。
about other systems,
例如大脑结构或者我们的数据网络
like brains and data networks that we engineer,
甚至是癌症。
and even cancer.
这些系统的共同点在于
So what all these systems have in common
没有一个中央控制结构。
is that there’s no central control.
蚁群的工蚁由不育的雌性构成—
An ant colony consists of sterile female workers —
工蚁就是你能看到的蚂蚁—
those are the ants you see walking around —
而能够生育的雌性蚂蚁(蚁后)
and then one or more reproductive females
只负责产卵。
who just lay the eggs.
蚁后不会发号指令。
They don’t give any instructions.
虽然它们叫做蚁后,
Even though they’re called queens,
但是它们不会指挥其它工蚁。
they don’t tell anybody what to do.
所以任何蚁群都没有一个最高负责人,
So in an ant colony, there’s no one in charge,
所有这些系统都是没有中央控制的,
and all systems like this without central control
仅仅通过简单的交互方式进行运作.
are regulated using very simple interactions.
蚂蚁的交互是通过嗅觉进行的.
Ants interact using smell.
它们用触角(antennae)去嗅.
They smell with their antennae,
用触角来交流。
and they interact with their antennae,
所以当一只蚂蚁的触角碰到另一只蚂蚁的触角
so when one ant touches another with its antennae,
它就知道另一个蚂蚁
it can tell, for example, if the other ant
是不是同一个巢穴的
is a nestmate
以及这只蚂蚁正要做什么事情.
and what task that other ant has been doing.
现在你看到的这个蚂蚁的活动场所
So here you see a lot of ants moving around
通过玻璃管子跟另外两个场所连接着
and interacting in a lab arena
蚂蚁在这些活动场所里走来走去.
that’s connected by tubes to two other arenas.
当一只蚂蚁遇到了另外一支蚂蚁,
So when one ant meets another,
遇见的是哪只蚂蚁并不重要,
it doesn’t matter which ant it meets,
它们也没通过触角传递
and they’re actually not transmitting
任何复杂的信号或消息.
any kind of complicated signal or message.
唯一传递的是两只蚂蚁
All that matters to the ant is the rate
相互遇见的频率.
at which it meets other ants.
这些交互信息汇总起来后,
And all of these interactions, taken together,
我们就得到了一个网络.
produce a network.
这就是刚才你看到的蚂蚁
So this is the network of the ants
四处移动之后生成的网络图,
that you just saw moving around in the arena,
正是这张不断变化中的网络,
and it’s this constantly shifting network
塑造了这个蚁群的行为,
that produces the behavior of the colony,
像是有多少蚂蚁躲在巢穴里,
like whether all the ants are hiding inside the nest,
多少蚂蚁出去寻食之类的信息.
or how many are going out to forage.
大脑差不多也是这么工作的,
A brain actually works in the same way,
相比起来观察蚂蚁吸引人的地方之一,
but what’s great about ants is
是你可以看到整个网路是如何运作的.
that you can see the whole network as it happens.
蚂蚁的种类超过一万两千种,
There are more than 12,000 species of ants,
你能想象到的环境里都有蚂蚁存在,
in every conceivable environment,
而且不同环境下的蚁群会使用
and they’re using interactions differently
不同的交流方式以适应环境特点.
to meet different environmental challenges.
例如不同环境下不同蚁群
So one important environmental challenge
普遍面临的问题之一
that every system has to deal with
是如何控制”运营开支”, 即需要花多大成本
is operating costs, just what it takes
才能生存下来.
to run the system.
另一个环境带来的挑战是,
And another environmental challenge is resources,
如何去搜寻和收集资源.
finding them and collecting them.
在沙漠中, 水非常的稀少,
In the desert, operating costs are high
所以运营开支很大,
because water is scarce,
我研究的一种生活在沙漠中以植物种子为食的蚂蚁
and the seed-eating ants that I study in the desert
寻找水源的同时需要消耗水.
have to spend water to get water.
所以当一只蚂蚁外出觅食的时候,
So an ant outside foraging,
在火辣辣的太阳底下找种子的时候,
searching for seeds in the hot sun,
它体内的水分会被蒸发.
just loses water into the air.
而蚁群
But the colony gets its water
可以通过消化种子富含的脂肪
by metabolizing the fats out of the seeds
产生需要的水.
that they eat.
所以在这种环境下, 蚂蚁之间的交互
So in this environment, interactions are used
主要用来决定是否外出觅食.
to activate foraging.
一个准备外出的觅食者不会轻易外出,
An outgoing forager doesn’t go out unless
除非得到了足够的归巢的觅食者的反馈,
it gets enough interactions with returning foragers,
你现在看到的是回来的觅食者,
and what you see are the returning foragers
在通过蚁巢的管道进入蚁穴时,
going into the tunnel, into the nest,
跟沿路准备外外出的蚂蚁进行交流.
and meeting outgoing foragers on their way out.
这对蚁群来说很重要,
This makes sense for the ant colony,
因为外面的食物越多,
because the more food there is out there,
觅食的蚂蚁找到食物的速度越快,
the more quickly the foragers find it,
它们回来的就更快,
the faster they come back,
那么就会有更多的蚂蚁出去觅食.
and the more foragers they send out.
这个系统默认的行为是按兵不动,
The system works to stay stopped,
除非看到了足够的好处.
unless something positive happens.
所以在这里交互是为了决定是否出去觅食.
So interactions function to activate foragers.
我们已经研究这种系统演化有一段时间了.
And we’ve been studying the evolution of this system.
首先, 这种演化各不相同.
First of all, there’s variation.
不同的蚁群的行为是不一样的.
It turns out that colonies are different.
在旱季, 有些蚁群觅食的少,
On dry days, some colonies forage less,
不同蚁群之间的差异
so colonies are different in how
就体现在它们如何做权衡
they manage this trade-off
如何在消耗更多水分去寻找食物
between spending water to search for seeds
以及获得更多食物和水之间权衡
and getting water back in the form of seeds.
我们尝试将蚁群
And we’re trying to understand why
类比成神经细胞组织
some colonies forage less than others
基于脑神经科学的相关理论
by thinking about ants as neurons,
来理解蚁群觅食行为的差异。
using models from neuroscience.
所以就像是一个神经元是否触发,
So just as a neuron adds up its stimulation
取决于相连的神经元触发强度之和,
from other neurons to decide whether to fire,
蚂蚁的行为也由其它蚂蚁决定,
an ant adds up its stimulation from other ants
是否要出去觅食。
to decide whether to forage.
于是我们就希望能够找到
And what we’re looking for is whether there might be
觅食行为存在差异的蚁群之间
small differences among colonies
是否蚂蚁在觅食前交互的其它蚂蚁数量
in how many interactions each ant needs
也是存在对应差异的。
before it’s willing to go out and forage,
因为像那样的蚁群会更少外出觅食。
because a colony like that would forage less.
这个问题也可以用大脑来进行类比。
And this raises an analogous question about brains.
我们提到的大脑
We talk about the brain,
当然也是每个大脑都有些许不同的
but of course every brain is slightly different,
肯定有一些个体
and maybe there are some individuals
在某些环境下
or some conditions
他们的神经元的电特性决定了
in which the electrical properties of neurons are such
需要接受更多的刺激才会激发。
that they require more stimulus to fire,
而这会导致脑的功能差异。
and that would lead to differences in brain function.
而为了解答之前系统演化的问题,
So in order to ask evolutionary questions,
我们首先需要研究下后代繁殖率。
we need to know about reproductive success.
这张图显示的是我的研究站附近的蚁群图
This is a map of the study site
我在这个地方研究收获蚂蚁(一种西方蚁)
where I have been tracking this population
种群演化已经超过28年了。
of harvester ant colonies for 28 years,
这大概也是一个种群能够延续的时间。
which is about as long as a colony lives.
每一个圆圈都表示一个种群,
Each symbol is a colony,
圆圈的大小表示后代的规模,
and the size of the symbol is how many offspring it had,
我们可以通过基因变化分析(genetic variation)
because we were able to use genetic variation
来确认种群之间的父子关系,
to match up parent and offspring colonies,
也就是能够确认每个蚁群
that is, to figure out which colonies
里面的蚁后来自于
were founded by a daughter queen
哪个父代蚁群。
produced by which parent colony.
研究这么多年之后我有了一些
And this was amazing for me, after all these years,
迷人的发现,例如,154号种群,
to find out, for example, that colony 154,
我研究很多年的这个,
whom I’ve known well for many years,
算是祖母级别的。
is a great-grandmother.
这是她的女儿种群,
Here’s her daughter colony,
这是她的孙女种群,
here’s her granddaughter colony,
这是重孙女种群。
and these are her great-granddaughter colonies.
分析这些种群使我能够
And by doing this, I was able to learn
发现后代种群(的多少)体现了
that offspring colonies resemble parent colonies
父代种群在炎热天气下
in their decisions about which days are so hot
觅食的策略差异,
that they don’t forage,
而且考虑到父代种群
and the offspring of parent colonies
与后代种群之间距离很远,不可能遇见,
live so far from each other that the ants never meet,
所以后代种群中的蚂蚁
so the ants of the offspring colony
不会从父代种群那里学习到什么。
can’t be learning this from the parent colony.
于是第二步就是看看
And so our next step is to look
这种相似性的基因学变异根源。
for the genetic variation underlying this resemblance.
然后我就可以提出这个问题:哪群蚂蚁的策略更好?
So then I was able to ask, okay, who’s doing better?
在研究进行中的那些年里,
Over the time of the study,
尤其是最近的十年,
and especially in the past 10 years,
实验所在的美国西南部
there’s been a very severe and deepening drought
经历了非常严重和持久的干旱,
in the Southwestern U.S.,
结果是那些更注重保持水分的蚁群,
and it turns out that the colonies that conserve water,
那些大热天不出门的蚁群,
that stay in when it’s really hot outside,
也就是那些失去了更多觅食机会的蚁群,
and thus sacrifice getting as much food as possible,
反而是更有可能有后代蚁群的。
are the ones more likely to have offspring colonies.
我曾经一度认为154号种群
So all this time, I thought that colony 154
是进化的失败者, 因为在旱季,
was a loser, because on really dry days,
它们很少出去觅食,
there’d be just this trickle of foraging,
反之其它的种群
while the other colonies were out
会出去寻找更多的食物,
foraging, getting lots of food,
但是结果是,154号种群非常的成功。
but in fact, colony 154 is a huge success.
她是事实上的统领。
She’s a matriarch.
她是这个研究点非常少见的有重孙后代的蚁群
She’s one of the rare great-grandmothers on the site.
就我所知,这还是第一次
To my knowledge, this is the first time
我们人类能够追踪到
that we’ve been able to track
自然界中野生生物群体的
the ongoing evolution of collective behavior
集体行为进化
in a natural population of animals
以及找到最适合环境的生存方式.
and find out what’s actually working best.
现在, 互联网使用的算法
Now, the Internet uses an algorithm
用来分配数据流动的算法
to regulate the flow of data
与这些蚂蚁使用的算法
that’s very similar to the one
即如何安排工蚁外出觅食的算法
that the harvester ants are using to regulate
非常相似.
the flow of foragers.
你们猜我们如何称呼这种相似性?
And guess what we call this analogy?
蚁群互联网(Anternet)的到来.
The anternet is coming.
(掌声)
(Applause)
所以发送数据的电脑
So data doesn’t leave the source computer
在得到信号确认带宽足够之前
unless it gets a signal that there’s enough bandwidth
不会将数据发送出去.
for it to travel on.
在互联网的早期,
In the early days of the Internet,
发送和接收数据的成本非常高,
when operating costs were really high
所以任何形式的数据丢失都是不可以接受的,
and it was really important not to lose any data,
所以网络系统被设计利用相互之间的交互
then the system was set up for interactions
来决定何时发送数据.
to activate the flow of data.
发现蚂蚁跟我们人类最近才发明的算法
It’s interesting that the ants are using an algorithm
有这么大的相似性是很叫人惊喜的,
that’s so similar to the one that we recently invented,
而且现在我们只发现了蚂蚁使用的算法中
but this is only one of a handful of ant algorithms
一小部分的算法,
that we know about,
蚂蚁已经有了1.3亿年的历史
and ants have had 130 million years
已经演化出很多好的算法,
to evolve a lot of good ones,
因此我相信有可能
and I think it’s very likely
另外尚未研究的1.2万蚂蚁种类中
that some of the other 12,000 species
也有很多有意思的算法,
are going to have interesting algorithms
可以用于数据网络
for data networks
这些算法甚至超过了我们的想象.
that we haven’t even thought of yet.
例如, 当运营成本很低的时候呢?
So what happens when operating costs are low?
热带雨林里, 蚁群觅食的成本很低,
Operating costs are low in the tropics,
因为那里非常的湿润, 对于蚁群来说
because it’s very humid, and it’s easy for the ants
外出觅食也非常容易.
to be outside walking around.
但是蚂蚁的种类是如此的繁多
But the ants are so abundant
数量也非常庞大
and diverse in the tropics
因此蚂蚁之间的竞争非常激烈.
that there’s a lot of competition.
一个蚁群需要用到的任何资源
Whatever resource one species is using,
基本上都有竞争者
another species is likely to be using that
与之争夺.
at the same time.
所以在这样的环境下, 相互接触的用途
So in this environment, interactions are used
完全反了过来.
in the opposite way.
蚁群的系统不断的扩张,
The system keeps going
直到一些不好的事情发生,
unless something negative happens,
我研究的一种蚁群会在丛林里
and one species that I study makes circuits
构建自己的觅食网络,
in the trees of foraging ants
在蚁穴和食物时间不断的来回,
going from the nest to a food source and back,
一圈一圈的觅食,
just round and round,
直到一些不好的事情发生,
unless something negative happens,
例如遇到了
like an interaction
别的种类的蚂蚁.
with ants of another species.
这是蚂蚁安防的一个例子.
So here’s an example of ant security.
中间的位置, 一只蚂蚁
In the middle, there’s an ant
在跟另外的种群的蚂蚁触碰了触角之后
plugging the nest entrance with its head
将蚁穴的入口用自己的头挡住了.
in response to interactions with another species.
这些小的、腹部朝上的蚂蚁
Those are the little ones running around
正在这周围走动.
with their abdomens up in the air.
但是一旦危险解除,
But as soon as the threat is passed,
入口就会重新开启,
the entrance is open again,
或许我们也可以联想到
and maybe there are situations
在计算机安全领域
in computer security
这个领域的运营成本也低到
where operating costs are low enough
我们可以临时的中断网络访问
that we could just block access temporarily
以应对临时的威胁,
in response to an immediate threat,
稍后继续开放,
and then open it again,
而不是现在的做法
instead of trying to build
尝试构造一个永久的防火墙.
a permanent firewall or fortress.
另一个环境带来的挑战
So another environmental challenge
所有的蚁群系统都需要面对的
that all systems have to deal with
是如何寻找和搜集资源.
is resources, finding and collecting them.
蚁群为了解决这个问题, 采用了
And to do this, ants solve the problem
集体搜索(collective search)的方法,
of collective search,
而这个问题现在已经引起了
and this is a problem that’s of great interest
机器人研究人员的极大兴趣,
right now in robotics,
因为我们都知道,
because we’ve understood that,
与其用一个单一的
rather than sending a single,
复杂且昂贵的机器人
sophisticated, expensive robot out
去探索另外的星球
to explore another planet
或去火场搜救,
or to search a burning building,
或许有更好的方式
that instead, it may be more effective
就是造一堆便宜的机器人
to get a group of cheaper robots
相互之间仅仅交换简单的信息,
exchanging only minimal information,
就像是蚂蚁所做的那样.
and that’s the way that ants do it.
这种外来的阿根廷蚂蚁
So the invasive Argentine ant
很擅长扩大自己的搜索网络.
makes expandable search networks.
它们非常善于解决集体搜索中的
They’re good at dealing with the main problem
主要问题,
of collective search,
即如何在两个不同的目标之间权衡
which is the trade-off between
既要能够搜索的彻底
searching very thoroughly
又要搜索的范围广.
and covering a lot of ground.
它们是这么做的,
And what they do is,
当搜索空间小而蚂蚁很多时,
when there are many ants in a small space,
它们会搜寻的非常彻底
then each one can search very thoroughly
因为它们知道临近的区域
because there will be another ant nearby
有别的蚂蚁在搜索,
searching over there,
但是当搜索面积很大
but when there are a few ants
且蚂蚁很少时,
in a large space,
它们会扩张自己的搜索路径
then they need to stretch out their paths
去覆盖更大的面积.
to cover more ground.
我想它们之间的接触主要交换的是蚂蚁的密度信息,
I think they use interactions to assess density,
当它们的密度很大时,
so when they’re really crowded,
它们碰见的就越多,
they meet more often,
搜寻的也就越仔细.
and they search more thoroughly.
不同种类的蚂蚁使用的算法应该是不同的,
Different ant species must use different algorithms,
因为随着一代代的演化
because they’ve evolved to deal with
它们需要的资源不同.
different resources,
知道这些差异真的很有用.
and it could be really useful to know about this,
所以最近我们把蚂蚁
and so we recently asked ants
放在微重力的极端环境中
to solve the collective search problem
希望能够帮助
in the extreme environment
国际空间站
of microgravity
解决集体搜索的难题.
in the International Space Station.
当我第一次看到这张照片, 我想,
When I first saw this picture, I thought,
呀, 他们把蚁穴竖起来放着了,
Oh no, they’ve mounted the habitat vertically,
但是马上意识到, 其实横竖都一样的.
but then I realized that, of course, it doesn’t matter.
这个实验的想法是
So the idea here is that the ants
蚂蚁要花大力气把自己挂在墙上
are working so hard to hang on
或者也可以说是地板上, 你怎么看都行
to the wall or the floor or whatever you call it
这样它们就没有精力去交互了,
that they’re less likely to interact,
所以关于蚂蚁密度的信息
and so the relationship between
以及它们相互遇见的频率
how crowded they are and how often they meet
都会乱掉.
would be messed up.
我们还在分析这些数据.
We’re still analyzing the data.
我还没有结论.
I don’t have the results yet.
但如果我们能够知道地球上的
But it would be interesting to know
其它物种如何解决此类问题
how other species solve this problem
这一定非常的有意思,
in different environments on Earth,
所以我们创建了一个活动
and so we’re setting up a program
鼓励全世界的小朋友们
to encourage kids around the world
用不同的蚂蚁种类重复我们的实验.
to try this experiment with different species.
非常简单.
It’s very simple.
做起来也不需要多少成本.
It can be done with cheap materials.
这样, 我们就能够绘制一张
And that way, we could make a global map
蚂蚁集体搜索算法的”世界地图”.
of ant collective search algorithms.
我想那些外来的蚂蚁种类,
And I think it’s pretty likely that the invasive species,
那些混进我们大楼的蚂蚁,
the ones that come into our buildings,
对于集体搜索非常在行,
are going to be really good at this,
因为它们已经跑到你的厨房
because they’re in your kitchen
非常地善于找到食物和水.
because they’re really good at finding food and water.
对于蚂蚁而言最为相似的资源
So the most familiar resource for ants
是野餐的地方,
is a picnic,
是一个集中的资源.
and this is a clustered resource.
当一块水果掉在地上,
When there’s one piece of fruit,
周围很可能还有更多的水果渣,
there’s likely to be another piece of fruit nearby,
因此生活在集中资源多的地方的蚂蚁
and the ants that specialize on clustered resources
通过相互接触来召集伙伴.
use interactions for recruitment.
所以当一只蚂蚁遇见另一只蚂蚁,
So when one ant meets another,
或是另一只蚂蚁沿路留下的
or when it meets a chemical deposited
化学气味,
on the ground by another,
然后它就会改变自己的方向
then it changes direction to follow
冲着接触方提供的方向去搜寻
in the direction of the interaction,
这就是为什么能够有一只蚂蚁大军
and that’s how you get the trail of ants
与你分享野餐的原因.
sharing your picnic.
现在, 我觉得我们或许可以
Now this is a place where I think we might be able
从蚂蚁身上获得治疗癌症的一些启发.
to learn something from ants about cancer.
我是说, 首先, 我们可以做很多事情
I mean, first, it’s obvious that we could do a lot
来阻止癌症
to prevent cancer
例如禁止有人向其他人销售
by not allowing people to spread around
可能增加我们身体患癌症风险的
or sell the toxins that promote
有毒有害商品,
the evolution of cancer in our bodies,
但是我不认为在这点上蚂蚁能够帮助我们什么,
but I don’t think the ants can help us much with this
因为它们从来不会毒害同类.
because ants never poison their own colonies.
但是我们或许可以从蚂蚁那里学到一些方法
But we might be able to learn something from ants
来治疗癌症.
about treating cancer.
癌症有很多不同的种类.
There are many different kinds of cancer.
每一种癌症一开始都附着在身体的特定部位.
Each one originates in a particular part of the body,
然后一些类型的癌症(癌细胞)
and then some kinds of cancer will spread
会扩散或传播到其它特定的组织结构中
or metastasize to particular other tissues
它们需要在那里获得自己需要的资源.
where they must be getting resources that they need.
现在如果你从这个角度
So if you think from the perspective
去看待早期癌细胞
of early metastatic cancer cells
它们也是在体内搜寻
as they’re out searching around
寻找他们需要的资源,
for the resources that they need,
如果这些资源是集中的,
if those resources are clustered,
那么它们很可能通过相互接触来召唤更多的癌细胞,
they’re likely to use interactions for recruitment,
那么如果我们能够破解癌细胞相互召唤的机制
and if we can figure out how cancer cells are recruiting,
我们或许就能够设置陷阱
then maybe we could set traps
在癌细胞聚集之前捕获它们.
to catch them before they become established.
所以蚂蚁在不同的环境下
So ants are using interactions in different ways
使用了完全不同的交互算法.
in a huge variety of environments,
我们能够从中学习
and we could learn from this
并将结果用于那些没有
about other systems that operate
中央控制的系统.
without central control.
仅仅通过简单的接触,
Using only simple interactions,
蚂蚁已经创造了
ant colonies have been performing
长达1.3亿年的伟大历史.
amazing feats for more than 130 million years.
我们还有很多需要向它们学习.
We have a lot to learn from them.
感谢大家.
Thank you.
(掌声)
(Applause)

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