Ming the Mechanic:
Swarm intelligence

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Swarm intelligence2003-03-29 12:39
by Flemming Funch

Chris Corrigan mentioned an article, an interview with Eric Bonabeau about Swarm intelligence.
"Human beings suffer from a "centralized mindset"; they would like to assign the coordination of activities to a central command. But the way social insects form highways and other amazing structures such as bridges, chains, nests (by the way, African fungus-growing termites have invented air conditioning) and can perform complex tasks (nest building, defense, cleaning, brood care, foraging, etc) is very different: they self-organize through direct and indirect interactions.

In social insects, errors and randomness are not "bugs"; rather, they contribute very strongly to their success by enabling them to discover and explore in addition to exploiting. Self-organization feeds itself upon errors to provide the colony with flexibility (the colony can adapt to a changing environment) and robustness (even when one or more individuals fail, the group can still perform its tasks).

With self-organization, the behavior of the group is often unpredictable, emerging from the collective interactions of all of the individuals. The simple rules by which individuals interact can generate complex group behavior. Indeed, the emergence of such collective behavior out of simple rules is one the great lessons of swarm intelligence.

[...]Solutions to problems are emergent rather than predefined and preprogrammed. The problem is that you don't always know ahead of time what emergent solution will come out because emergent behavior is unpredictable. If applied well, self-organization endows your swarm with the ability to adapt to situations that you didn't think of. This approach has proven itself in a number of situations, ranging from network routing to factory scheduling to supply chain optimization to controlling groups of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). But it does require a drastic shift in mindset.

[...]However, we're reaching a stage in technology where you no longer have a choice: your mindset has to change or you'll be screwed. It's no longer possible to use traditional, centralized, hierarchical command and control techniques to deal with systems that have thousands or even millions of dynamically changing, communicating, heterogeneous entities. I think that the type of solution swarm intelligence offers is the only way of moving forward, you have to rethink the way you control complex distributed systems."

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