Should ants be the next model for urban computing?
Stigmergic Collaboration is a model for the self-organisation of ants, artificial life and swarm intelligence. Wikipedia defines it as "a method of indirect communication in a self-organizing emergent system where its individual parts communicate with one another by modifying their local environment". It emerges from the work of a french biologist who coined the term in conjunction with his research o termites behavior. As described by Mark Elliott:
"Pierre-Paul Grasse first coined the term stigmergy in the 1950s in conjunction with his research on termites. Grasse showed that a particular configuration of a termite’s environment (as in the case of building and maintaining a nest) triggered a response in a termite to modify its environment, with the resulting modification in turn stimulating the response of the original or a second worker to further transform its environment. Thus the regulation and coordination of the building and maintaining of a nest was dependent upon stimulation provided by the nest, as opposed to an inherent knowledge of nest building on the individual termite’s part."
Why do I blog this? Although I won't enter in the big debate about how this model can be translated to human/behavior (ants/termites =! human beings), I think that stigmergic collaboration is a very interesting notion to understand the future of urban computing. Coordination is explained through the use and production of artefacts by the individuals, for example collective nest building, or the production of chemical traces. What is interesting is the notion of "artefact production", humans do not leave and rely so much on chemical traces BUT their activity in the environment leaves traces... especially if you think about mobile phone/bluetooth/wifi interactions.