NYT on the HM

November 14, 2007

Interesting article in Tuesday’s New York Times on s Swarm Intelligence, a favorite topic here: From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm.

Ito does a good job of explaining the basic concept of swarm intelligence and the hive mind, but, I think, falls a bit short on giving examples of the “harder problems” that swarm intelligence can solve, instead focusing on the group decision-making.

Yes, it’s true that, as the article discusses, a flock of birds can decide as a group which way to fly without discussing it and voting, and yes, it’s true that ants will naturally form into nested
columns with knowing that’s what they’re doing, but there’s so much more to the phenomenon. For example, what about the way that ants can decide on which is a superior food source without singe individuals visiting the options, or how bees can discern between different potential homes? To me, that’s the deeper question.

And the example given on human swarm behavior is just a cheat: handing a piece of paper to a human and telling him to act like a swarming robot isn’t an example of human swarming behavior. Come on, there are better examples of human swarming behaviors. Believe me, I’ve been to enough stadium concerts, I’ve watched the stock market, I’ve seen enough fashion trends come and go to know this, and so do you.

Still, the article does a really good job of explaining the basic mechanics of swarm intelligence, and there’s a nice hint at the end of some potential applications of the research. Definitely worth the read!

(Thanks Sean and Marc for sending the link!)

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