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New Book Spotlights High Tech Animal Navigation

Jonathan Witt
Photo: An Arctic tern, by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Today’s ID the Future episode spotlights the new book Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts. The author, Eric Cassell, joins host and Baylor computer engineering professor Robert J. Marks to discuss the groundbreaking book and, in particular, the chapters on some of the animal kingdom’s most stunning navigators — the Arctic tern, homing pigeons, the monarch butterfly, and the desert ant, among others. Download the podcast or listen to it here.

Cassell has degrees in biology and engineering, and he draws on these and his decades of professional expertise in aircraft navigation systems to show that these creatures instinctively employ navigational technologies that humans have only recently mastered. According to Cassell, their skills are driven by sophisticated algorithms embedded in their brains. But what created these algorithms in the first place? He argues that mindless evolution is a poor candidate for the job. A better candidate is the same cause that builds sophisticated algorithms today — intelligent agency. Tune in as Cassell and Marks touch on everything from magnetic, sun, and celestial navigation to chemotaxis, dead reckoning, spherical geometry, great circle routes, neural networks, and … Viking sun stones. Read the enthusiastic endorsements, and pick up your copy of the book here.