August 29, 2010
The amazing thing is, and this goes somewhat against our human intuition, there is no centralized hierarchy and control whatsoever in such swarms. The individuals just act out their very simple task or rules and respond to their local circumstances. They repeatedly interact with many other members of the swarm and have no oversight or awareness of the total picture. They are very simple participants in the process; they don't know why they do what they do, they just do it. The swarm itself however is highly intelligent. It is, as it were, one enormous organism consisting of the many individual organisms which interact with each other. A group of ants is so smart that it can find, in very little time, the shortest route to something sweet you dropped on the kitchen floor. The swarm also can find out very fast that a predator is near and respond appropriately. Bees can find a wonderful place to build their hive by swarm intelligence. Flocks of birds and schools of fish can respond amazingly fast when a predator approaches them. Within apparently no time the group has collectively ducked away.
Human beings are, of course very different from the animals mentioned. In comparison with them, we are extremely intelligent and aware. Sometimes we perform as a swarm, for instance, when we are giving a standing ovation in the theatre. But often we are acting very individually as well. Does swarm intelligence have any relevance and usefulness for us, for instance in the way we do our work and run our companies? Indeed. In the new book The smart swarm, author Peter Miller gives many examples of how swarm intelligence has been applied to improve decision making, planning and other kinds of problem solving. For instance, by making computer programs simulating a group of ants, large companies have found ways to improve their logistic process and also their production process, thereby saving many millions of dollars annually.
My questions to you are: what applications do you see for swarm intelligence in your work? What connection do you see between the solution-focused approach and swarm intelligence?