It is easy to appreciate how a Web site can be arranged to change over a series of new generations created by a prototype creator program. Every day, week or month - depending upon the time between refreshments - the Web site is rebuilt to incorporate any changes initiated by either visitor activity or demands for new system modules.
What is not so obvious is that this evolutionary progression can happen independently on a number of different sites; each of these sites evolving in a different characteristic way.
In other words, the wider system consists of multiple instances of freely evolving Web sites - all driven by a single prototype creator program. This is illustrated in the following diagram.
Evolution of the prototype creator
The changes being made to each Web site are not initiated by the creator program, they are being initiated by the stigmergic effects of the visitors interacting with the sites. Effectively, this means the prototype creator program is being driven to make changes as a result of the combined input of all visitors from all the Web sites. And these visitors are all motivated to initiate changes as a result of stigmergy.
A reminder here of the way stigmergy causes termites to build complicated nest structures without any overall planning or central control. They begin by making small changes to some small starting feature in a landscape. These changes trigger instinctive behavior that prompts the termites to make further, but slightly different changes. These changes prompt other instinctive behaviors, causing the termites to make different changes yet again.
There is a positive feedback between the termites and their landscape, which results in the landscape - their nest - continuously becoming more organized and complex in parallel with the termites' changing behavior. This is the way in which stigmergy manifests itself - as a growing organization, which becomes progressively more complex.
It is this enigmatic process of stigmergy that explains how the prototype creator program came into existence and now continues to evolve further complexity. It is a result of many different people seeing what is currently happening and pushing on the boundaries of this envelope.
The process started several years ago, with a simple idea and a simple structure. In the beginning only a few modules were needed - the basic idea being to find a way for people to exchange information by way of agents. As this idea was pursued, new modules were developed to expand upon the original idea and introduce various useful features.
Early on, it was realized that experimenting with the many possibilities that were beginning to emerge would involve having to make many different models requiring innumerable designs and redesigns. To save having to build new prototypes, every time a new direction was explored, it was decided to create a program that could build prototypes automatically.
At first, this program could only partially build the prototypes. Much of the design and construction had to be done by hand. However, during the course of trying out many different ideas and building many different kinds of prototypes, the prototype builder became progressively more sophisticated. Various labor saving tools were developed; utility modules were added. Over the course of a couple of years, the prototype builder was producing fully functioning prototypes at the click of a button.
As the agents became more and more associated with the Web, it wasn't long before tools and utilities were added to allow the prototype builder to include modules that could produce complete Web sites.
When it came to applying this prototype building program to real life situations, there was invariably a need to add further features and design elements to cater for special requirements demanded by particular applications. Instead of just adding these custom features to the constructed prototypes, they were built into the prototype creator program - as additional modules. This way, subsequent future prototypes could also include these extra features. This is illustrated in the following diagram.
With the Web sites up and running, the visitors interact with the sites. Through the agents they can provide feedback and prompt further initiatives. This sets up many feedback paths through which stigmergy can take effect. This is shown diagramatically in the figure below.
This is the way an automatic prototype building program evolves. It is not planned or directed. It grows unpredictably, expanding into new niches as circumstances and opportunities dictate. The number of modules increase, the range of possibilities increase and the Web sites that can be created can incorporate increasing complexity and sophistication.
Although the program is dealing with each Web site individually, the growing prototype building program is gradually amassing more and more options and facilities that become available to all Web sites. Any new modules created through the initiatives of visitors on one site, automatically become an optional choice for the others.
It is this progressively evolving prototype creator program that is the central concern of the stigmergy research project. It is growing organically. It feeds on the ideas and initiatives that emerge from the needs and suggestions of all visitors to all sites. The organization is not pre-designed, it emerges automatically as a result of an evolutionary strategy that retains useful initiatives and discards the bad.
In this way, the prototype creator program is acting as a memory and storage facility for all good ideas that are likely to emerge. It not only stores those ideas but allows them to be selected from to be combined in many different ways.
This is why the research project has been set up the way it has been. It is not just about creating individual Web sites, it is about creating a system which will enable many Web sites to evolve independently yet be able to share innovations.
It is a really neat strategy and we wish we could claim credit for it, but, like everything else in the stigmergy research project the idea and the strategy has been copied from Mother Nature.
Copying from nature
The Web site creator program is based upon the ingenious method used by nature to produce function and form in biological organisms.
Every biological cell contains a database of modules. This database is called a genome and the modules are called genes. Just as has been described for the prototype creator program, selected modules (genes) are turned on or off to combine together to give each particular cell form and functions. This elegantly simple solution is the reason why there are so many different kinds of life forms. It is the reason why there is so much variation among individuals. It is the mechanism that allows species to change, evolve and adapt for survival and competition. So simple, yet so powerful.
Recent explanations in evolutionary biology tell us that mutation plays only a minor role in the evolutionary process. More rapid advancement to complexity is achieved through benign viruses entering cells and adding their genetic content to the genome. These genetic modules are then used to give the cells more options.
This is an exact parallel with how additional modules are included in the prototype creator program. Like the viruses, they add to the total number of possible functions that are available to create more complex systems. Nature has used this strategy very effectively. There is no reason why it shouldn't work just asw well for us..
A comparison between the genome of a biological cell and the prototype creator program is illustrated in the following diagram.
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