Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller

This is a really delightful and informative book. It is all about how insects and birds act in groups and how these groups get things done.

A single ant or bee isn't smart, but their colonies are. There is a study on Swarm Intelligence. See Wikipedia entry at Swarm Intelligence. What they are looking at is collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems. It is being applied to the development of robots. When applied to robots 'swarm intelligence' refers to the more general set of algorithms used to control robots. There is another good article on this at Carleton on this subject.

The monstrous Orcs in The Lord of the Rings coordinated their movements as a marauding army by following simple rules of interaction. These rules were developed by the study of a flock of starlings. If you saw this movie you would see how complex action was delivered from very simple rules. The rules were:

  • Stay close to other Orcs
  • Don't bump into other Orcs
  • Head in the same direction as the Orc throng
  • If you run into any humans - cut them in half with your sword"

On YouTube, you can see a very short animated video talking about swarms and what they can tell us at

There are a couple of quite detailed reviews on this book. One is at Business Pundit and another good one at Mission to Learn called Lessons from the Swarm by Jeff Cobb

Peter Miller is a senior editor at National Geographic. There are a couple of interesting articles here by Peter Miller. See Field Notes on the National Geographic site. There is also an older article on swarms by Peter Miller on the National Geographic site

There is also an interesting video of how Art Colonies work by Deborah Gordon. See YouTube site. This is rather long at just over an hour.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Miller. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

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