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“The Genius of Swarms”
By Peter Miller, National Geographic Staff
“A single ant or bee isn’t smart, but their colonies are. The study of swarm intelligence is providing insights that can help humans manage complex systems, from truck routing to military robots.
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…
…Consider the way Google uses group smarts to find what you’re looking for. When you type in a search query, Google surveys billions of Web pages on its index servers to identify the most relevant ones. It then ranks them by the number of pages that link to them, counting links as votes (the most popular sites get weighted votes, since they’re more likely to be reliable). The pages that receive the most votes are listed first in the search results. In this way, Google says, it “uses the collective intelligence of the Web to determine a page’s importance.”
Wikipedia, a free collaborative encyclopedia, has also proved to be a big success, with millions of articles in more than 200 languages about everything under the sun, each of which can be contributed by anyone or edited by anyone. “It’s now possible for huge numbers of people to think together in ways we never imagined a few decades ago,” says Thomas Malone of MIT’s new Center for Collective Intelligence. “No single person knows everything that’s needed to deal with problems we face as a society, such as health care or climate change, but collectively we know far more than we’ve been able to tap so far.”
…”A honeybee never sees the big picture any more than you or I do,” says Thomas Seeley, the bee expert. “None of us knows what society as a whole needs, but we look around and say, oh, they need someone to volunteer at school, or mow the church lawn, or help in a political campaign.”
If you’re looking for a role model in a world of complexity, you could do worse than to imitate a bee.”
“The first time I looked at a bee’s eye magnified I was amazed to see a field of hexagons, just like honeycomb. I wondered, is this a coincidence or a clue? Is it simply that hexagons are ubiquitous in nature, or is there a deeper correspondence between the structure of the bee’s vision and the structure she builds – in other words, similar frequencies being expressed in similar form? This got me pondering on the connection between vision and action at a more abstract, metaphoric level. Is there a parallel kind of encoding relevant to humanity? At a refined level of our own nature, does our deeper capacity to see and to do correspond with an intrinsic structuring?”
To promote Britain’s Plan Bee campaign, UK winery Banrock Station created the world’s first bee-powered billboard, composed of 10,000 live bees. Plan Bee aims to campaign against the use of bee-killing pesticides and to inspire people to help bees in their own gardens.
“THE BEEKEEPER” – experimental documentary by Richard Robinson
“…but whatever the intended metaphor for taking bees into space, one thing is clear – when the minors used the canaries to test the mines for methane gas… they knew that if the canaries died, the mines weren’t safe to go in – so they would stay home and not go into the mines. But the bees as the new canaries in the coal mine…things are a little be different. We don’t have the option that the coal miners did. The coal mine is now the whole planet and there’s no where else to go.”
“Lots of people talk to animals,” said Pooh.
“Not that many listen though.”
“That’s the problem.”
-The Tao of Pooh
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