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House Hunting by Honey Bees

Dr. Tom Seeley
Cornell University

The question of social choice, of how groups can best arrive at decisions, has occupied social philosophers and political scientists for centuries. The fundamental problem is to turn individual preferences for different outcomes into a single choice by the group as a whole. This problem has been studied mainly with respect to human groups, which have developed a variety of voting procedures to single out one option from a list of alternatives. Social choice, however, also occurs in animal groups. In this talk, I will explain how the members of a honey bee swarm make a collective choice of their colony's nest site. We shall see that the analysis of this group decision-making process has revealed several curious secrets of success, or "swarm smarts," that can enhance decision making by groups of humans.