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Curating Smart Networks

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Why Are Living Networks So Smart?

A lot of people have studied the wisdom that emerges out of networks in nature. Do a search on “superorganism,” “emergence” or “swarm intelligence,” and you’ll find a nice trail of Wikipedia and other articles.

Ant NetworkMost of nature’s living networks gained their intelligence through evolutionary processes that left them really good at creating and processing feedback loops.

Take ants, for example. Over millions of years, they evolved a clever mechanism for finding the shortest path between food sources and their ant hill. Each ant moves out in a random search pattern. Those that find food excrete a chemical pheromone trail to guide other ants to the food and back. The pheromone itself slowly evaporates over time, so that the shortest path between food and hill retains the strongest signal.

This approach to optimizing flow in a network is so efficient that software engineers have a name for it; they use the ant colony optimization algorithm in all kinds of applications from vehicle routing, to project management and even protein folding.

That’s the power of tens of millions of years of evolutionary tweaking – and the power of feedback loops.