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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First things first: What is it?

Swarm Intelligence. It kind of has a feeling of magnitude, doesn't it? Its one of those terms you can drop in the middle of an explanation that kind of sticks out. But... what exactly is it though? The title is descriptive enough, but can you think of examples? I'd be willing to bet you've had at least a handful of encounters with it already.

Here it is: "Swarm Intelligence is a term describing the decentralized, self-organized behavior of systems composed of many individuals that are natural or artificial." Definitely a mouthful.

Maybe some examples would help. Ever seen a bee? How about an ant? I don't think you'd consider the actions of either as very intelligent. They seem to move around pretty randomly, usually -- as one would think -- in search of food or something similar. Curiously enough, though, they seem to be able to coordinate their efforts well enough to build hives of some sort, find food for their colonies, defend their home, etc.. If they were all just doing random things, how would any of that be possible?

You might think "Ooooh, ants and bees. How does this relate to anything?" Do a Google search for Locusts and you're likely to hit at least a dozen articles describing how some swarm somewhere is completely destroying our food sources. Suddenly this is a little more serious. Hm. Swarm Intelligence might be a little more pervasive than one first thinks. Schools of fish, herds of robots even... how about humans? Group decision making? Aha, theres something that hits us all. More on all of these later of course. :)

Here are some interesting tidbits to read over (or listen to) in the mean time:

(Audio) The Intelligence of crowds in 'The Perfect Swarm':

(Text) A wiki style collection of interesting applications and where else one might find swarms:

(Text) ...and for a bit of general knowledge concerning SI:

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