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Smart Mobs mini-blog: Swarming Posted on 10/23/2002.

So, I think I'm going to keep a wee blog o' thoughts pertaining to the reading of Smart Mobs, because I'm finding it's firing my brain.

"Swarming" is a theme running through the book. The idea that mobile devices are overlaying a kind of collective intelligence atop geographically separated people, enabling them to act in concert, even though they're not physically together.

This made me think, obviously, of "swarm intelligence", which is often discussed in the context of extremely efficient behavior emerging in ant colonies.

It made me wonder if "swarms" of humans will, collectively, become similarly more efficient, by allowing all of the individuals to try different things, and those who are successful, report the finding around, such that everyone can achieve success more rapidly. We do this already, but I'm curious to see how mobile devices enable this to happen extremely rapidly. A typical problem could be, "Where to eat for dinner?" Send this question out to a group, receive their varying responses, and act based on the results.

Or something.

4 comments so far. Add a comment.

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You mean like:
Posted by BJMe @ 10/23/2002 11:37 PM PST [link to this comment]

I see where you're going with the question, but the example given may not be the best one. As BJ points out, where to eat for dinner is a problem with several well-known and practiced solutions (eg. What's closest? What does my wife think? Where have I been before? What does Zagat say?)

I'm not saying that 'swarming' principles couldn't be applied to that particular problem -- I just think that other factors (intrinsic motivations of the mob members, competition between members as well as between different mobs) cloud the issue, and make 'where to eat' a fairly non-compelling issue. (At least for many humans -- it is, of course, of overwhelming interest in the insect world.)

Mobile devices may increase the efficiency of passing the messages around, but the resultant discourse is no more intelligent than what we have now: Bob can't eat seafood; Jane lobbies for a quiet place in her neighborhood, secretly hoping that everyone will back out except for Tom who lives nearby; and Jack is just an asshole who will only eat Mexican. Ever.

The trick for this mob will be to use the technology in cooperative
ways, given their own oft-contradicting motivations. (As the Axelrod cover summarizes- how can cooperation emerge in a world of self-seeking egoists?)

Some of the more compelling examples I've seen (for the emergent 'intelligence' of technology-enabled mobs) seem to share one thing in common -- the mobs already share some motivation, or face some galvanizing threat or common enemy (the WTO, a ripe-for-overthrowing despot.) Perhaps we can learn more about how technology enables cooperation be 'controlling for' variances between the individual agents' own motivations?
Posted by Bryce @ 10/24/2002 07:16 AM PST [link to this comment]

re: Zagat-- yes, imagine Zagat, but where you find out what others think not once a year, but instantaneously at that moment.

And yes, the restaurant thing is perhaps not the best example. One that's mentioned in SMART MOBS is how kids in Sweden are using SMS to coordinate fare-jumping on the subway. Everyone goes to a different entrance, and the person who finds an entrance without an attendant alerts the others, and they all fare-jump there.
Posted by peterme @ 10/24/2002 09:12 AM PST [link to this comment]

I take it that all these Swedish kids own expensive cell phones, have lots of free time,
no where they really have to get to, and nothing better to do than scatter around Stockholm in this playful little prank. Too bad Stephen Jay Gould isn't still around to study the evolutionary biology of this curious creature.
Posted by BJMe @ 10/24/2002 12:13 PM PST [link to this comment]

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