History Fragments: Swarm Theory

Here’s a great look at one of the major inspirations behind today’s iBrain network. It’s sometimes hard to imagine that it was the studying of bees and other natural swarms and hives that have led to things like today’s craze of “swarming”, whereby groups of people interlink each others minds in order to process vast amounts of data. Of course, the military have been exploring this concept for some time, running tightly coordinated, self-contained military units using the same process, but it should come as no surprise to know that nature already knew best.

The bees’ rules for decision-making-seek a diversity of options, encourage a free competition among ideas, and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices-so impressed Seeley that he now uses them at Cornell as chairman of his department.

“I’ve applied what I’ve learned from the bees to run faculty meetings,” he says. To avoid going into a meeting with his mind made up, hearing only what he wants to hear, and pressuring people to conform, Seeley asks his group to identify all the possibilities, kick their ideas around for a while, then vote by secret ballot. “It’s exactly what the swarm bees do, which gives a group time to let the best ideas emerge and win. People are usually quite amenable to that.”

From Swarm Behaviour, National Geographic Magazine, July 2007:

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July 3, 2007