CUDA Spotlight: GPU-Accelerated Swarm Behavior
by Nadeem Mohammad, posted Mar 12 2012 at 10:50PM
This week's spotlight is on Iain Couzin, an Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. His expertise is in the study of collective animal behavior.
His lab uses a range of experimental systems - from ants and locust swarms to schooling fish and even human crowds - to explore the fundamental principles that underlie collective behavior across levels of biological organization. This interview is part of the CUDA Spotlight Series.
NVIDIA: Why study the collective behavior of animals?
NVIDIA: Recently, CNN highlighted your role in helping to predict locust swarms. Are we truly getting closer to being able to predict these events?
So each individual is attempting to eat others and avoid being eaten – the outcome is the onset and maintenance of vast mobile swarms with up to several billion insects. There are also benefits to forming such aggregations in that they saturate predators and move effectively out of nutrient poor areas. Understanding this gives us hope that we could use satellite imaging of vegetation quality and distribution as well as weather information to predict when and where swarms form, but this is currently quite far off.
NVIDIA: You and your team recently published a paper on"Uninformed individuals promote democratic consensus in animal groups." What were the key findings?
Whereas previously it has been argued for both animal and human groups that uninformed individuals may promote minority extremist views we found that instead, if in sufficient number, they tend to allow those individuals with preferences to have an equal representation of their opinions within groups. In doing so they effectively prevent those who are strongly opinionated having a disproportionate influence - thus consensus becomes democratic with the majority view being favored.
NVIDIA: Time Magazine referred to your work in an article titled "America Votes with the Fishes"….
We would very much like to test whether it may apply to groups of decision-making humans such as in juries or committee meetings. Do those individuals who lack strong preferences facilitate consensus and prevent those with very strong opinions from dominating consensus decisions? We don’t know yet, but it will be very interesting to find out.
NVIDIA: How does GPU computing play a role in your work? What kind of GPU technology is your lab using?
In addition, the power of GPU computing allows us to employ massively accelerated computer vision so we can now track the motion of hundreds or thousands of individuals in our laboratory experiments and even reconstruct the visual sensory information available to each individual using NVIDIA's OptiX raytracing engine. We currently use eleven C1060 Tesla boards situated in my lab, which is far from enough, and so we are actively pursuing funding for a centralized GPU facility at Princeton University.
NVIDIA: What are some advantages of working with the CUDA programming model?
NVIDIA: What new projects are you working on?
In addition, we are examining the role of collective behavior in the growth and invasion of cancer tumors, again using GPU computing to simulate not only the patterns of collective movement and signaling among migratory cancer cells, but also the evolutionary dynamics of competing subpopulations within the tumor and the complex interactions between these cells and their microenvironment.
His work has been published in leading scientific journals including Nature, Science, PNAS and Current Biology as well as receiving extensive media attention including in the New York Times, TIME magazine, The Economist, Wired, CNN, BBC and ABC. Couzin has won numerous scientific awards in recognition of his contributions to science including the Searle Scholar Award in 2008, Mohammed Dahleh Award and Distinguished Lectureship rom UC Santa Barbara in 2009, Popular Science Magazines "Brilliant 10" Award in 2010and PopTech Science and Public Leadership Award in 2011.
CNN: In Mauritania, Sunny with a Chance of Locusts