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From the author of “Rock, Paper, Scissors – Game Theory in everyday life” dedicated to evolution of cooperation in nature (published last year – Basic Books), a new book on related areas is now fresh on the stands (released Dec. 7,  2009): “The Perfect Swarm – The Science of Complexity in everyday life“. This time Len Fischer takes us into the realm of our interlinked modern lives, where complexity rules. But complexity also has rules. Understand these, and we are better placed to make sense of the mountain of data that confronts us every day.  Fischer ranges far and wide to discover what tips the science of complexity has for us. Studies of human (one good example is Gum voting) and animal behaviour, management science, statistics and network theory all enter the mix.

One of the greatest discoveries of recent times is that the complex patterns we find in life are often produced when all of the individuals in a group follow similar simple rules. Even if the final pattern is complex, rules are not. This process of “Self-Organization” reveals itself in the inanimate worlds of crystals and seashells, but as Len Fisher shows, it is also evident in living organisms, from fish to ants to human beings, being Stigmergy one among many cases of this type of Self-Organized behaviour, encompassing applications in several Engineering fields like Computer science and Artificial Intelligence, Data-Mining, Pattern Recognition, Image Analysis and Perception, Robotics, Optimization, Learning, Forecasting, etc. Since I do work on these precise areas, you may find several of my previous posts dedicated to these issues, such as Self-Organized Data and Image Retrieval systemsStigmergic Optimization, Computer-based Adaptive Dynamic Perception, Swarm-based Data MiningSelf-regulated Swarms and Memory, Ant based Data Clustering, Generative computer-based photography and painting, Classification, Extreme Dynamic Optimization, Self-Organized Pattern Recognition, among other applications.

For instance, the coordinated movements of fish in schools, arise from the simple rule: “Follow the fish in front.” Traffic flow arises from simple rules: “Keep your distance” and “Keep to the right.” Now, in his new book, Fisher shows how we can manage our complex social lives in an ever more chaotic world. His investigation encompasses topics ranging from “swarm intelligence” (check links above) to the science of parties (a beautiful example by ICOSYSTEM inc.) and the best ways to start a fad. Finally, Fisher sheds light on the beauty and utility of complexity theory. For those willing to understand a miriad of some basic examples (Fischer gaves us 33 nice food-for-thought examples in total) and to have a well writen introduction into this thrilling new branch of science, referred by Stephen Hawking as the science for the current century (“I think complexity is the science for the 21st century”), Perfect Swarm will be indeed an excelent companion.

Journalism is dying, they say. I do agree. And while the argue continues, many interested on the issue are now debating what really is the reason. The question is…, there is no reason at all, there are many. Intricate ones. Do ponder on this: while newspapers are facing the immense omnipresent and real-time competition from TV channels, TV on itself is dying also (while unexpectedly, … Radio is surging). On many broadcasted programs, TV anchors are now more important than the invited people who, on that subject (supposedly) worked hardly over years to provide that precise innovative content. As in large supermarkets and great malls, package by these means have turned more important than the content in itself. This related business editorial pressure for news quickness have become so intensive and aggressive, that contents are replaced every second without judge and once in the air hardly described, discussed,  opposed or dessicated. So at large,  TV CEO’s producers think that people are no longer waiting for a new interesting content to appear, they are instead waiting for the anchor which passes them down as they were peanuts. Peanuts are good, but in excess – we all agree – are damn awful. And many do so,  as an old passive addiction. Which means that in the long run, nothing remains (fact for both sides); … And if they give me no opportunity at all to check content carefully, if I happen to be on the mood to, … So, I move on. Buy this precise simple way, media cannibalizes itself.

We all know that attention spam is getting narrower these days, and, e.g., yes… greater literature classics are no longer read. So, Media CEO’s say – “they have no time“. But, really … do mind that gap. Think twice. If the whole environment suddenly recognizes (being this one of the major questions – see below) that they are getting enough of peanuts (and they really are), they will urge for beef-steaks. In fact, eating 1000 void peanuts takes more time to consume than one large good beef! And there is a difference, … the beef remains on our body for several hours, not seconds.

It’s promptly becoming a paradox, since Media CEO’s on their blindness competition refuge on saying that they – us readers – have no time (when in mediocrity no solution is found, easiest way is to repeat a mantra), and we (mostly of us) keep zapping news as never before. However, they never realized that we keep zapping it, because no news – by these means –  are of interest. They really all have become the same. And once they appear all the same, they all soon disappear from our minds. … We all in some aspects all wonder, what  really happened to  research journalism, stories about new complex issues, strong content, explained in detail but still provided in simple eloquent ways? Come on, this long-tailed huge market niche, once yours, is now void!

Newspapers do have this wonderful singularity. They still have journalists (at least some, if they had enough vision to nourish them). They could provide insightful detailed backup stories, open questions, or debating new ones as no one can in public space. Moreover, they have time from their consumers. That, at least, is what I am feed-backing to Guardian every Sunday when I put my money over the news bench in change for this newspaper, along others like The Economist. But in face of these overall great news-without-sense turmoil cascade, probably one of these days, people will instead desire silence… or listening to their grandfathers knowledge, good-sense, and long-lived emotion (which keeps increasing believe me). They will relate to him, as never before.  Not newspapers. At least, he do provides content.

But once the media is set (and in some way, not all the way, medium is the message, as postulated by Marshall McLuhan), the great gold-run will be on, … guess what, … content. And on relationships among content! Journalism will be no longer under atomization. Or crystallized.

Fig. – Spatial distribution of 931 items (words taken from an article at ABC Spanish newspaper) on a 61 x 61 non-parametric toroidal grid, at t=106. 91 ants used type 2 probability response functions, with k1=0.1 and k2=0.3. Some independent clusters examples are: (A) anunció, bilbao, embargo, titulos, entre, hacer, necesídad, tras, vida, lider, cualquier, derechos, medida.(B) dirigentes, prensa, ciu. (C) discos, amigos, grandes. (D) hechos, piloto, miedo, tipo, cd, informes. (E) dificil, gobierno, justicia, crisis, voluntad, creó, elección, horas, frente, técnica, unas, tarde, familia, sargento, necesídad, red, obra … (among other word semantic clusters; check paper article below).

For long, media decided to do nothing, while new media including social media was coming in to the plateu, stronger as never before. Let me give you one example. In order to understand how relations between item news could enhnace newspaper reading and social awareness, back in 2002 I decided to make an experiment. Together with a colleague, we took one article of the Spanish ABC magazine (photo above). The article was about spanish political parties and corruption. It contained 931words (snapshot above). In order to extract semantic meaning from it as a pre-processing computer analysis, we started by applying Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA). Then, Swarm Intelligent algorithms were developed in order to have a glimpse on the relations among all those words on the newspaper article. Guess what? Some words like “big”, friends” and “music discs” were segmented from the rest of the political related article (segregated it on a remote semantic “island”), that is, not only a whole conceptual semantic atlas of that entire news section was possible, as well as finding unrelated issues (which were uncorrelated semantic “islands”). Now, just imagine if this happens within a newspaper social network, live, 24 hours a day, while people grab for strong co-related content and discuss it as it happens. One strong journal article, could in facto, evolve to social collective knowledge and awareness as never before. That, in reality is something that classic journalism could use as and edge for their (nowadays awful) market approach. Providing not only good content, but along with it, an extra service not available anyware (which is in some way, priceless): The chance to provide co-related real-time meta-content. Not one view, but many aggregated views.  Edited real-world real-time good quality journalism which has the potential of an “endless” price, namely these days. On the other hand, what we now see is that news CEO’s along with some editors still keep their minds on 19th century journalism.  For worse, due to their legitimic panic. However, meanwhile, the world has indeed evolved.

[] Vitorino Ramos, Juan J. Merelo, Self-Organized Stigmergic Document Maps: Environment as a Mechanism for Context Learning, in AEB´2002 – 1st Spanish Conference on Evolutionary and Bio-Inspired Algorithms, E. Alba, F. Herrera, J.J. Merelo et al. (Eds.), pp. 284-293, Centro Univ. de Mérida, Mérida, Spain, 6-8 Feb. 2002.

Social insect societies and more specifically ant colonies, are distributed systems that, in spite of the simplicity of their individuals, present a highly structured social organization. As a result of this organization, ant colonies can accomplish complex tasks that in some cases exceed the individual capabilities of a single ant. The study of ant colonies behavior and of their self-organizing capabilities is of interest to knowledge retrieval/management and decision support systems sciences, because it provides models of distributed adaptive organization which are useful to solve difficult optimization, classification, and distributed control problems, among others. In the present work we overview some models derived from the observation of real ants, emphasizing the role played by stigmergy as distributed communication paradigm, and we present a novel strategy to tackle unsupervised clustering as well as data retrieval problems. The present ant clustering system (ACLUSTER) avoids not only short-term memory based strategies, as well as the use of several artificial ant types (using different speeds), present in some recent approaches. Moreover and according to our knowledge, this is also the first application of ant systems into textual document clustering.

(to obtain the respective PDF file follow link above or visit chemoton.org)

There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom“, ~ Richard Feynman (referring to NanoTechnology).

There are huge life scales in our world with which we are not acquainted to. While some prefer to wonder about “alien life” on movie theaters simultaneously eating popcorn, right here at Planet Earth, some lakes and rivers are full of them. What you see above is a tiny water flea ‘Crown Thorns‘ photographed by zoologist Jan Michels (Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, Germany). It was nominated as the best microscopic life image of 2009, last week, at BioScapes (short for Biological landscapes – a competition sponsored by Olympus  in order to recognize microscope photos of plants, animals, and other life-forms that capture the “fascinating minutia of life”).

The snaking ridge at top left took top honors in the 2009 BioScapes microscope imaging contest. If water flea parents sense that their habitat is shared by their main predators, tadpole shrimp, the flea offspring sport these pointy crowns – which are unappetizing to the shrimp. Jan Michels, added a dye to reveal the tiny animal’s exoskeleton (green) and cellular nuclei (blue smudges). The blue-and-red dots are one of the animal’s compound eyes, like those of a fly.

This image, kind of remembers me of another one I used in the past for a series of Artificial Intelligence conferences I have held in the past, during 2004 (Budapest, Hungary), 2005 (Muroran, Japan) and 2006 (Jinan, China) (SIP workshop series Swarm Intelligence and Patterns). This image below was used as the conference symbol; a termite head scanned trough SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) taken by University of Toronto, Canada.

But probably one of the images I most love at this nano-scale  is one  of a red ant grabbing  a tiny electronic circuit board (microchip) on his mouth (Science Museum, UK). Reason is simple. This image (below) could have several readings. By using SEM, image is formed by focusing an electron beam onto the sample surface.  As the beam scans across the surface the sample emits secondary electrons which are then detected and used to modulate the image signal much like a television.  More electrons is translated into a brighter image.  As the beam scans the surface each point is mapped out just as the electron beam in a television maps the image onto the screen.  Here we are able to see all the details of one of natures smallest denizens holding one of mankind’s smallest creations, a silicon microchip (the building blocks of digital electronics).

What’s funny is that ant colonies are known (among many other interesting features) for their remarkable cemetery organization capabilities, that is, their sequential clustering task of corpses and objects (as this microchip below). Ant colonies do show that the coordination and regulation of building activities do not depend on the workers themselves but are mainly achieved by the nest structure: a stimulating object configuration triggers the response of a termite worker, transforming the configuration into another configuration that may trigger in turn another (possibly different) action performed by the same termite or any other worker in the colony.

Ants do all this by simple manipulating objects using stigmergic capabilities. Ants form piles of items such as dead bodies (corpses), larvae, or grains of sand. Initially, they deposit items at random locations. When other ants perceive deposited items, they are stimulated to deposit items next to them, being this type of cemetery clustering action, organization, and brood sorting a type of self-organization and adaptive behavior. Some  bio-inspired branches of computer science use this kind of behaviors to solve highly complex problems, such as Data Mining, Data analysis and classification, Data clustering, Image retrieval, among many others.

Indeed, life on its own is the ultimate science-fiction. And, as Richard Feynman mentioned once, there is plenty of room below!

With the ubiquitous use of web-based and wireless Social Networks, people are increasingly using the term “Collective Intelligence“. However, I do have serious doubts they really understand what they meant. Some call it the wisdom of crowds or collective wisdom, others smart mobs, while others wealth of knowledge, world brain and so on. Moreover, turning things worse, there are those also, which tend to see it, or confound it with crowd-sourcing as well as prediction markets. Even if there are some loosely conceptual bridges between all them, it will be probably useful to know that the term was instead been born over the Artificial Intelligence research area, while exploiting stigmergic phenomena (see also Swarm Intelligence) among ensembles of cooperative agents. So what follows is a recent definition provided by Univ. of Alberta, Canada. This entry was added last month (Nov. 2009) at the Dictionary of Cognitive Science (Michael R.W. Dawson, David A. Medler Eds.):

Collective intelligence – is a term that refers to the computational abilities of a group of agents. With collective intelligence, a group is capable of accomplishing a task, or of solving an information processing problem, that is beyond the capabilities of an individual agent.

Collective intelligence depends on more than mere numbers of agents.  For a collective to be considered intelligent, the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts.  This idea has been used to identify the presence of collective intelligence by relating the amount of work done by a collective to the number of agents in the collection (Beni & Wang, 1991). If there is a linear increase in amount of work done as a function of the number of agents, then collective intelligence is not evident. However, if there is a nonlinear increase (e.g., an exponential increase) in the amount of work done as a function of the number of agents, then Beni and Wang argue that this is evidence that the collective is intelligent.

Collective intelligence is of interest in cognitive science because many colonies of social insects appear to exhibit this kind of intelligence, and this has inspired researchers to explore “porting” such processing to robot collectives. As far as robots are concerned, collective intelligence is exciting because it offers the possiblity of developing systems that are scalable (they don’t get disrupted when more agents are added) and flexible (they don’t get disrupted when some agents are damaged or fail) (Sharkey, 2006).

References:

1. Beni, G., & Wang, J. (1991, April 9-11). Theoretical problems for the realization of distributed robotic systems. Paper presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Sacramento, CA.
2. Sharkey, A. J. C. (2006). Robots, insects and swarm intelligence. Artificial Intelligence Review, 26(4), 255-268.

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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