Posted by: zyxo | February 14, 2008

Swarm intelligence or hierarchy ?


Simon Garnier brought my attention to a paper by Thomas Seeley with the thesis that in biological systems, when things become to complex for one individual to hold control (e.g. too much information to process in time) swarm intelligence takes over, at least when the biological system contains a large number of units. So far so good.
But what about humans ? It seems that humans — and to a lesser extend other rather intelligent species — have found another solution : hierarchy.
Not one CEO of a large enterprise can control every tiny procedure that has to be followed in his enterprise. Does he know how to mine data ? How to drill a hole in a piece of aluminium ? How to invent a new system for electronical control of car brakes ? etc …
And still he is in contol. In control of the people who are in control of the people who are in control of the people who …
How come we do not observe this hierachy in other species ?
Take for example a pack of wolves. Yes, there is a hierarchy, but a linear one. There is nothing like a work breakdown structure, or better : command breakdown structure.
People are intelligent enough to organise a complex reward/punisment system thats supports a complex hierarchy. Apparently this complex hierarchical system approach has outsmarted the swarm approach of other, less intelligent animals.

And we see it everywhere : political systems, economical systems, enterprises, … Humans organise themselves, so that when complexity gets too big for one individual he delegates parts of this complexity in stead of loosing control.

And now, with the web 2.0 tools around things have been moving so fast that the swarm approach is setting foot in humanity. No one has gotten the time to take control and organise the world in a novel hierarchy. There have been, and still are some who try : the most obvious one is of course the semi-monopoly Microsoft. Will someone succeed ? In that case, since there is only one internet he or she will have full control ! Beware !


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