Here's what I think might happen. When the population encounters an enemy group of overwhelming strength, only some of the band will do battle, while the aggressionless individuals will retreat. When energy reserves eventually run low, the modestly aggressive floys will join their nonaggressive comrades. But the highly aggressive floys will continue to engage the enemy, thereby protecting the retreating floys from attack. Although these steadfast warriors will ultimately be destroyed, most of the original population will survive--not bad, considering that a uniformly aggressive population would be killed off completely. And because more hyperaggressive individuals will appear in the next generation when the surviving floys with single genes for aggression mate, this strategy may be continued indefinitely. So some individuals in a warring population might always have destructively aggressive tendencies--not for their own protection but to ensure the survival of their pacifist brethren. Dolan's floys allow me to explore this notion.
Artificial life-forms can also be used to examine
problems that have nothing to do with biology. For example, some investigators have used computer simulations of this kind to probe the mysteries of
traffic flow. My good friend Greg Schmidt believes that Dolan's floys may, in fact, need little modification to
model the way people drive on California highways. As with my version, the actions of each floy could be determined in part by an aggression parameter,
which would make some floys more likely to speed, swerve in front of others or drive on the shoulder during traffic snarls. Such a model, borrowed from
a simulation of birds, could offer important insights into traffic management. At the very least, it might one day explain why drivers prone to rush-hour
road rage always seem as common as crows.
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This article was originally published with the title Boids of a Feather Flock Together.