Why is stigmergy a good platform for swarm intelligence?


We find universal coordination throughout the natural world. Dynamic environments enable indirect interactions for the production of unified objectives. Let’s explore the four principles of stigmergic collaboration and their application in the design of intelligent systems.

Have you ever examined the path on which you find yourself standing today along with all the antecedent steps that brought you to the current moment? The modern path of artificial intelligence is a mix of cognitive science, psychology and dreams.

Is there a secret to how organisms collaborate? Methods to coordinate aren’t only found in science labs and the basements of research buildings. Universal coordination mechanisms can be found in many places, if we look. Environmental traces, mass collaboration and group interactions have much in common.

The secret to complete organization

Stigmergy derives from the Greek words στίγμα stigma meaning “mark or sign” and ἔργον ergon meaning “work or action.” Stigmergy is the universal coordination mechanism: a consensus mechanism of indirect coordination within an environment among agents or actions. While we don’t fully understand all the interactions of self-organizing organisms, the concept of self-organization is found in both robotics and social insects.

Remy Chauvin (1956) conducted the earliest work on stigmergy-based coordination in the biological sciences. However, the foundation of stigmergy was envisioned by Pierre-Paul Grasse in 1967, making use of his 1950s research on termites. The idea is that an agent’s actions leave signs in the environment, signs that it and other agents sense and which determine and incite subsequent actions. Stigmergy is also used within artificial intelligence for the study of swarming patterns of independent actors that use signals to communicate.

A better understanding of stigmergy and sociometry (a quantitative method for measuring social relationships) and group dynamics offers new insights into the world of multi-agent coordination, which is the essence of swarm intelligence.

The essence of stigmergy is that traces left within an environment — the result of an action — stimulate the performance of a future action. This combined positive and negative feedback loop enhances a mutual awareness, fostering the coordination of activity without the need for planning, control and communication.

Ants use pheromones. People use wikis. Wasps use secretions. These multi-agent coordination mechanisms function because agents exchange information within a dynamic environment. The agents modify their environment, which triggers a future response.

When open-source systems blossom from five users to 50,000 users, we might find our answers buried in the evolution of group work. Stigmergic collaboration has four distinct principles:

  1. Collaboration depends upon communication, and communication is a network phenomenon.
  2. Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components — social negotiation and creative output — without either of which collaboration cannot take place.
  3. Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2 to 25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
  4. Collaboration in large groups (roughly 26 to n) is enabled by stigmergy.

Collaboration with consensus

Stigmergic collaboration is when agents or individuals work without explicit knowledge of others. Adding a block to a blockchain isn’t controlled by a central function; it’s organic. Editing or changing a wiki page relies on a shared pool of content for mass collaboration and consumption.

Stigmergic interactions are coordinations of activities that, over time, use decentralized control. Primitive rules guide the orchestration of activity. There are no instructions, and there’s a self-awareness for actions and the sharing of information.

How can stigmergic principles be used in your mobile designs? How does the communication and messaging of self-organizing systems improve your IT landscape? How do unstable systems evolve into stable states in which order and organization are the norms? You can apply these theories to your technological environment.

Innovators are using these theories to design interactions that don’t presently exist within conventional artificial intelligence environments. Future artificial intelligence systems will be designed with an awareness of stigmergic collaborations.

Peter B. Nichol, empowers organizations to think different for different results. You can follow Peter on Twitter or his personal blog Leaders Need Pancakes or CIO.com. Peter can be reached at pnichol [dot] spamarrest.com.

Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls “a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today.”

Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience.

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Peter is a healthcare business and technology executive, recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice driving digital strategies.

Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to CIO.com on innovation. As Head of Information Technology, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader.

Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.