Emergent behaviors and IT Projects

Did you know that the largest known ant colony goes from northern Italy to the Spanish Atlantic coast? Yet ants don’t have an architect overseeing their construction, or a centralized coordination group which tells the rest of the ants what they have to do.

Ants are simple individuals with very limited communication skills, yet they are capable of forming minimum paths from the colony to the food and form efficient ant chains moving the food to the colony.

Grasscutter ants harvest tons of grass every year which they can’t digest, bring it to their colony, cut it to the right size and place it into a garden of fungus, which eats the grass and the ants eat the fungus. It’s not one or two intelligent outliers that do this. It’s the colony that does this to feed it’s 5.000 individuals.

Termites create 6 meter high “cathedrals”, with no central coordination, just simple rules that are wired into each individual’s DNA guiding them to release certain chemicals in response to stimuli such as proximity to other chemicals.

Birds fly in organized flocks without having radio communication to coordinate their positions and speeds, following 3 simple rules: 1) avoid getting too close to neighbor, 2) steer towards average heading of neighbors 3) steer towards average position of neighbors.

Wolves hunt in packs circling the prey with no communication needed, just following two rules: 1) get close to the prey 2) when close enough to the prey, move away from other wolves.

Fish swim in groups, homogeneous groups are called schools and heterogeneous are called schoals. This reduces their chance of being eaten by a predator. This chance is further reduced by joining a schoal of bigger fish, which will be preferred by predators. One puzzling aspect of schoal selection is how a fish can choose to join a schoal of fish similar to themselves, given that they cannot know their own appeareance.

The set of rules that the individuals follow is easy to understand, but the emerging behavior of the group is in no transparent way derived from this set of rules.

Would there be a set of rules that would enable us to work efficiently in projects without the need for central coordination?

ants

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