Schematics for making a cybernetic computer with ants. By Cesar Harada for Ollie Palmer. Wellcome trust, London, UK.
Roughly the idea is to have a large bed made with many small magnets, controlled by an LED Matrix controller, via USB -> Arduino -> proce55ing. The bed is covered with a sheet of Teflon. On the bed metallic powder can be reconfigured and become a magnetic display, a little bit like the ferrofluid experiments of Sachiko Kodama.
The metallic powder would be coated with ant pheromones ("pick me up" / "leave me here").
2 gates (one in, one out) would be a ant (bit) counter (webcam video processing).
Another webcam would be used for general visual control, and feedback.
The pattern the computer would draw as initial position of the metallic powder would be progressively reconfigured by the ants activities, bringing back the content of the "bed" into the "store room". The pattern on the bed would correspond to the program in the computer : a self modifying software and hardware, as one thing.
The computer could get complex if we would assign ants a color or an RFID tag, of if we had a less binary information to carry ("pick me up" / "leave me here", "pick me up for a while", "exchange me", ask someone to help pick me up" etc).
Such computer would be interesting to evaluate the capacity of learning of ants and of the machine.
We could also use ants methods of optimization for some of our human activities (find people under collapse buildings after avalanches, earthquakes...) or computer routines (web crawling), or new types or architecture generation...