How the simple brains of ants and termites avoid information overload and why this is important to how we organized our self in politics and in business.
Human beings exist in a vast and complex network we call the economy or human society. Our limited minds can only handle so much information in this vast network. In order to cope with this we organize into groups, create hierarchies and design technology to process the information into simplified signals we can understand. Because of this limitation, the types of collaboration we are able to engage in are limited in many ways. Certain types of society wide collaborations could solve some of the world's most difficult problems, however we have no idea how to organize ourselves intentionally in to something more complex beyond what we can individually understand. Lucky for us nature has been solving this problem for a long time and we may learn a thing or two from it.
The term "sematectonic communication was coined by E. O. Wilson, from the Greek words σῆμα sema "sign, token", and τέκτων tecton "craftsman, builder"...it represents a type of stigmergy ( http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stigmergy )" found in termite mounds and ant hills. It is more specifically about how the swarm lays down physical artifacts by using some building material as a sort of RAM bank. What I find very interesting about this is that instead of having a processor accessing a large bank of memory you have hundreds of thousands of processors (each agent) crawling about the insides of the memory changing different parts of it in parallel.
If you were to look at the entire network as one distributed program that unfolds in a regular predictable way, it is amazing . The program is distributed across multiple nodes that know how to precisely react to these artifacts that have been laid down by previous processes and how to react to the stimulus of each other in a noisy environment in order to allow the same functional structure to emerge every time (for example, termite mounds regulate humidity and temperature different from the outside environment. It is a vast network HVAC systems that use evaporative cooling and other natural environmental controls ). If we were to try to build this ourselves in order for a functional structure to emerge every time we would have to find some way to encode a set of simpler programs across multiple agents that would allow the larger functional structure to be created.
The potential of doing this in a social system is mind boggling, because it allows us to deal with the fundamental problem of information overload per agent. If we could create a general process that allowed us to encode simple rules in each person we could design much more sophisticated systems on the macro level without the need of understanding of the participants in the population. This prospect is both exciting and scary for if a power structure was doing this to benefit itself and we were unknowingly part of it, the results could forever trap culture at the whim of the power structure because none of us would have the bigger picture of what was actually happening.
For more information check out this podcast I was interviewed for here: Wired Into a Super Organism.