Smarts in Numbers

May 21, 2012

Torah Kachur

The whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to an ant hill, a swarm of locusts or a bee hive.  A single ant is no MENSA member and a locust certainly won't perform well on an IQ test but a group of ants or a flock of swallows may just be a hell of a lot smarter than you or me.


swarm theory animal intelligence


The bee hive is a complex home that is perfect in its efficiency of space and materials - in fact, it is so mathematically sound that there is something called the Honeycomb Conjecture.  An individual bee is most definitely dumb and it certainly has no understanding of the laws of geometry, nor does it understand the collective intelligence of where to set a hive or how to map nectar producing flowers.


It is the collection of a group of dumb things that follow a few simple rules that creates swarm intelligence, where groups of simpletons can generate complex and intelligent behaviour.  This 'intelligence' is decentralized and self-organized created by simple systems that result in complex behaviour. 


For instance, termites build mounds to regulate colony temperature and circulate air - it is so sophisticated that architects are using termite mounds as inspiration for establishing more sophisticated and efficient air circulation in skyscrapers.  Termites aren't intelligent on their own but have emergent properties that develop complex structures that trump our brains that act in isolation.


Can humans have swarm intelligence?  At this point, probably not.  Mostly because we have not lived in dense social networks for long enough and we don't cooperate well when we are told to have distinct social strata.  The internet may provide our version of swarm theory with supercomputers and supernetworks being fed by thousands of individual brains around the world.  With this, we may just be able to finally find Waldo, or explain the fame of the Kardashians.





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