Swarm Intelligence: An Interview with Eric Bonabeau

“DS: Okay, let’s dig in a little bit and tackle swarm intelligence. You’ve commented in some of your previous writings that the world is becoming so complex that no single human being can comprehend it. And that swarm intelligence offers an alternative way of designing “intelligent” systems in which autonomy, emergence, and distributedness replace control, preprogramming, and centralization.

So let’s start at the 30,000 foot level here. In broad strokes, how is swarm intelligence a different approach, compared to the typical way we use now, to managing vast amounts of information?

EB: The most amazing thing about social insect colonies is that there’s no individual in charge. If you look at a single ant, you may have the impression that it is behaving, if not randomly, at least not in synchrony with the rest of the colony. You feel that it is doing its own things without paying too much attention to what the others are doing.

But sometimes you also see “ant highways,” that is, impressive columns of ants that can run over hundreds of feet. Ant highways are highly coordinated forms of collective behavior.

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.” [1]

[1] http://www.openp2p.com/pub/a/p2p/2003/02/21/bonabeau.html

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