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The Rules of the Swarm 166

Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers are starting to discover the simple rules that allow swarms of thousands of relatively simple animals to form a collective brain able to make decisions and move like a single organism. To get a sense of swarms, Dr. Iain Couzin, a mathematical biologist at the Collective Animal Behaviour Laboratory at Princeton University, builds computer models of virtual swarms with thousands of individual agents that he can program to follow a few simple rules. Among the findings are that swarm behavior has patterns common to many different species, that just as liquid water can suddenly begin to boil, swarm behavior can also change abruptly in character, and that just a few leaders can guide a swarm effectively by creating a bias in the swarm's movement that steers it in a particular direction. The rules of the swarm may also apply to the cells inside our bodies and researchers are working with cancer biologists to discover the rules by which cancer cells work together to build tumors or migrate through tissues. Even brain cells may follow the same rules for collective behavior seen in locusts or fish. "How does your brain take this information and come to a collective decision about what you're seeing?" Dr. Couzin says. The answer, he suspects, may lie in our inner swarm."
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The Rules of the Swarm

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  • Gaia? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ynososiduts ( 1064782 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:54PM (#21344715)
    Maybe they are each part of the same consciousness? Have you not read Foundation's Edge?
  • by Willbur ( 196916 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @10:13PM (#21344865) Homepage
    When I read the summary my immediate response was that this was old news. It has been known for quite a while that cellular automata with simple rules can form universal Turing machines. That means that they can "form a collective brain" and "make decisions and move like a single organism". The interesting question then becomes; What "program" is your machine running, and how do you make it robust so that it works in the real world (with all the noise of nature)?

    The article is a popular science article, but addresses this, more interesting, question much more than the summary. They discuss some of the rules involved in specific situations (ants), and even look at "human swarms" (although that bit is a little cheesy). There is no general theory posited about how to make these rule sets though, apart from trial and error (in simulation if you can). They say that the researchers are starting to see patterns, but don't talk about what those patterns are - pity really, as that would have been very interesting.
  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @10:51PM (#21345147) Homepage
    That's right, keep the Republican jokes comming. Typical Slashdot "Swarm-think".

    Hey, I just discovered something...
  • Re:Water never (Score:5, Insightful)

    by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:08PM (#21345267) Journal
    There's a distinct phase transition that forms a discontinuity. Here are some Phase diagrams [] showing how state depends on pressure and temperature. The point is that you don't get a continuous transition between liquid and gas, say, with a half-liquid/half-gas state. Phase diagrams exhibit distinct lines separating quite distinct regions. The idea here is that maybe swarms also have these kinds of discontinuous phase transitions.
  • by Tribbin ( 565963 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @12:54AM (#21346113) Homepage
    You got it all WRONG!!!

    A swarm has no overlord!
  • by lashi ( 822466 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @12:59AM (#21346143) Homepage
    rules of the swarm applies to more than just simple creatures. it probably can be used to study our society, mass hysteria, war, religion.....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @05:32AM (#21347443)
    Obviously you did TFA, but remember the part about small set of leaders steering the swarm? There is ready made recipe for domination over society: create biggest group of apparently (they just need to seem like they know what to do) authoritative and prominent figures, instruct them to "pull in same direction", give them TV time and voila! - your party rules. Now, if I understood well, it works by first forming a smaller, inner swarm of "leaders", among which you are the sole "leader of leaders" and then use iteration of same principle.

    There - whole science of politics in just a few lines of text above.

    It is disenchanting and frightening to learn that evolution proves (by tried-and-true in social animals' groups) mindless follower-ism is superior to human constant competition inside swarms.

    Now go and RULE!
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @05:46AM (#21347493) Homepage Journal
    Republican jokes aside, if crowd behaviors on a large scale are provably predictable with swarm rules, what does that say about individual free will? We like to think we have it but in the grand scheme of things I don't think we're any smarter than ants.

Man will never fly. Space travel is merely a dream. All aspirin is alike.