From the CD-ROM "Concepts and strategies"


Harnessing the power of stigmergy

by Peter Small


The concept

Requires a completely new cognitive model

This tutorial is about a phenomenon called stigmergy. It is a very powerful concept, which can form the basis of highly complex information systems.

Ants tell each other how to find food using stigmergy, we can use it to to tell each other where to find information. The difference is, we can introduce far more sophistication into a computer environment than ants can into their simple landscapes.

If you are used to the way computers handle information processing you might find the concept of stigmergy takes you into unfamiliar territory. Stigmergy comes from the world of biological systems, where information is handled quite differently. The temptation will be to try to translate stigmergy into concepts you are familiar with, such as algorithms and database technology. Try not to do this because these concepts have no place in biological systems.

Computer technology assumes you know how to shape the future by creating categories and procedures. Biological systems assume that the future is completely unknown and unpredictable and cannot be controlled. Computer technology forces people to conform to its procedures. Biological systems adapt to the procedures of others.

In short, the understanding of stigmergy requires a completely new way to think about information processing and exchange. You cannot build upon the knowledge you already have - in fact, this might be a handicap - you have to start from scratch to build a totally new cognitive framework.

This is what this tutorial may help you to do.

Start tutorial