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  • [Music]

  • This episode is supported by Prudential.

  • [Music]

  • With more than 7 billion people on Earth and one car for every six of us,

  • traffic is bad just about everywhere.

  • [HONKING]

  • Last year, American drivers wasted nearly a million collective years staring at each other's tail-lights.

  • The average driver in London has it the worst,

  • spending more than four days a year in gridlock.

  • "There's Big Ben, kids! Parliament!"

  • But Earth is home to another great commuter, whose populations number in the trillions,

  • and they don't get stuck in traffic.

  • An army ant's day is a lot like ours.

  • Set off in the morning alongside thousands of our neighbors, moving out and back in neat little lines

  • so we can provide for our brood

  • I mean family.

  • Crowding, bottlenecks, slowpokes, ants face the same traffic challenges we do.

  • But they don't get in traffic jams, which is why scientists are looking to them for solutions to human traffic.

  • In a perfect world cars could pack in bumper-to-bumper and drive at that magic speed,

  • but we're not perfect.

  • One wrong tap on the gas or brakes, and OH COME ON!

  • GET MOVING!

  • When speed and density hit a tipping point, jams are inevitable.

  • Yet in the ant world, traffic jams don't happen, even when things get crowded.

  • The easiest solution to an overcrowded road is to make it bigger.

  • But ants can't just cut trails as wide as they want.

  • Wider roads take time and energy to maintain,

  • and the pheromones that mark them become weaker.

  • Instead, ants get organized.

  • It might not look like it, but there's lanes here.

  • Ants headed back to the colony loaded up with food use the center lane,

  • while outbound ants stay to the edges.

  • Why three lanes and not two, like our roads?

  • When two ants are on a collision course, eventually one's gotta give.

  • The loaded inbound ants are less maneuverable,

  • so the empty-handed ant almost always turns first,

  • half the time to either side.

  • And voila! Three lanes, no crashes, no traffic jams.

  • If you think you're so different from an army ant, pay attention next time you're in a busy crosswalk.

  • We naturally form similar lanes in crowds,

  • mindless individuals contributing to a larger pattern.

  • But put us behind the wheel, and this happens.

  • [HONKING]

  • There's a simple reason we hate traffic.

  • Because we hate waiting in line.

  • Queueing up plays weird tricks on our brains' sense of time.

  • Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.

  • This is why people listen to the radio, or play that license plate game.

  • And it's the same reason supermarkets put magazines in the checkout lines.

  • Ever been late for a big meeting and felt like the universe is standing in your way?

  • Anxiety makes waits seem longer.

  • Ever been in a traffic jam with no obvious cause?

  • The worst.

  • Uncertain or unexplained waits are longer than known or explained waits.

  • But traffic engineers have learned that simple information signs can change how we experience delays.

  • But more than anything else, we hate unfair waits.

  • You see a sign that says "lane closed ahead",

  • so you get over with plenty of time to spare,

  • only to see some jerk zip past you and get over at the last second.

  • Whatyou can't wait like the rest of us, Mr. Hurrypants?

  • Quick side note.

  • Gonna let you in on a little secret.

  • Traffic researchers have found that late merging is actually better.

  • If everyone drives up to the bottleneck and goes one-by-one like a zipper,

  • traffic moves up to 15% faster.

  • We use both lanes at max capacity, no one gets cheated, everyone wins!

  • The more you know.

  • And where were we?

  • Oh yeah.

  • Our innate sense of "what's fair" leads to the biggest psychological illusion that we experience on the road.

  • Why does traffic always move faster in the other lane?

  • Well, spoilers first : It doesn't.

  • Let's say two cars enter your standard stop-and-go traffic jam side by side.

  • Let's count the time each one spends passing versus getting passed.

  • One driver zips past a few cars in the other lane,

  • only to stop and wait and watch other cars pass.

  • And then go!

  • WOO HOO!

  • And then wait.

  • Even if the two cars cross some invisible finish line together, the same way they started,

  • each driver will feel like they spent more time being passed than passing,

  • because they did.

  • Our brains pay more attention to the losses than the gains.

  • All of this points to the real problem with traffic.

  • (It's) Our ego.

  • Human drivers care about minimizing their travel time

  • and don't give two honks about what other drivers want.

  • "Driving slower may be faster for everyone else, but it's not faster for me!"

  • "I don't care if we all get where we're going at the same time,

  • I don't like being passed!"

  • When leaf-cutter ants get stuck on a twig behind a heavily-loaded slowpoke,

  • do they honk and yell bad ant words?

  • No!

  • They simply slow down and march behind the ant returning with the goods,

  • because that's what's best for the group.

  • Worker ants are all related and working toward the same goal, the good of the colony.

  • That's the cooperative genetic programming that underlies their awesome traffic systems.

  • The fact that we have big, complicated brains is the very reason that we get stuck in traffic

  • and ants don't.

  • We think of traffic as something that happens to us rather than admitting we are the problem.

  • Ants are essentially tiny machines with simple programming.

  • Put them on a trail with a few rules, allow individuals to communicate and interact with each other,

  • and voila, you've got complex traffic networks running at near-maximum efficiency.

  • Sound familiar?

  • It should!

  • That's basically what we'll get when we stop letting our egos drive

  • and put traffic in the hands of a network of self-driving cars optimized to serve the collective good.

  • Sure, sentient machines may enslave humanity,

  • but at least they'll cut down on our commute!

  • But that's a video for another day.

  • Stay curious.

  • Thanks to Prudential for sponsoring this episode.

  • Saving a little more today, even just one percent more of your annual income,

  • can go a long way toward building a better retirement tomorrow.

  • Let's do a math equation.

  • Say a 25 year-old that earns $40,000 a year is planning on retiring at 70.

  • If they save an additional 1% of their salary by deducting $33 from their monthly paycheck

  • and earn 6% compounding interest,

  • they could increase their retirement savings by about $97,944.

  • You can go to RaceForRetirement.com for more information.

[Music]

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B1 INT US traffic ant lane loaded faster time

Why Don't Ants Get Stuck In Traffic?

  • 13383 870
    April Lu   posted on 2018/04/03
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