Monday, August 27, 2012

Simple automata summing up to complex system

All system is made of simpler parts.  The vast spectrum of how simplistic individuals can be put together to create complex system is what makes a network amazing.  Ant colony is such an example.

What is fascinating is that individually ant has very limited memory and cognitive ability to process information.  But as a whole it acts as a living organism, as if it has consciousness of its own.  An ant starts out searching for food.  It takes random steps until it can locate some food.  Once finding them, it goes back to signal other ants to follow the path to carry the food.

 Deborah Gordon and Balaji Prabhakar found that ants use TCP-like protocol
to deploy their colony of ants to maximize their chance of fetching food
Basic algorithm is a very simple one.  Yet when you see ants working in concert with each other, it looks like the entire ant colony is engineered to perform as a single living organism.

There is a similarity with how social network functions.

Social network connects many individual human with our friends around us.  Although human possesses much more complex cognitive skills, each of us can be thought of message processor.  We either pass information to others around us, embellish the story and add our perspectives, or share our own thoughts as original content.  At individual level, we are reacting to information presented to us and creates signal for others to add their perspective.

How information propagates through our social network looks similar to how ants work together to carry the food back home.  The more communicative we are, the more effective we are sharing the information and more chances that we will discover and synthesize new ideas.  In this group setting, ability to communicate clearly is paramount because our objective is not as simple as following the trace to discover food.  Instead our ideas tend to be abstract and, more importantly, require inspirational communicator to get us respond to the call to action.

If you look at leadership quality, it's about having ability to infect others with leader's vision so that they are compelled to act to further leader's vision.  Looking at this at high level, it's exactly what ants are doing so effectively to achieve common goal of gathering food.

May be this speaks to how much more difficult it is to build a scalable team with complex individuals than simple automata.

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