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Introduction to Complex Systems:
How to think like nature
Groups: organization and innovation
Russ Abbott
Sr. Engr. Spec.
Rotn to CCAE
310-336-1398
[email protected]
 1998-2007. The Aerospace Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
1
Flocking
• Craig Reynolds wrote the first flocking program two
decades ago: http://www.red3d.com/cwr/boids.
• Here’s a good current interactive version:
http://www.lalena.com/AI/Flock/
2
Group/system-level emergence
• Both the termite and ant models illustrate emergence (and multiscalarity).
• In both cases, individual, local, low-level rules and interactions
produce “emergent” higher level results.
– The wood chips were gathered into a single pile.
– The food was brought to the nest.
• Emergence in ant and termite colonies may seem different from
emergence in E. coli following a nutrient gradient because we see ant
and termite colonies as groups of agents and E. coli as a single entity.
• But emergence as a phenomenon is the same. In both cases we can
explain the design of the system, i.e., how the system works. In the
ant/termite examples, the colony is the system. In the case of E. coli,
the organism is the system.
In Evolution for Everyone, David Sloan Wilson
argues that all biological and social elements are
best understood as both groups and entities.
You and I are each (a) entities and (b) cell colonies.
http://evolution.binghamton.edu/dswilson/
3
Breeding groups/teams/systems
Evolutionary processes are
fundamental to complex systems
Traditional evolutionary theory says there is no such
thing as group selection, only individual selection.
Bill Muir (Purdue) demonstrated that was wrong.
• Chickens are fiercely competitive for food and water.
http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/faculty/muir_r.htm
• Commercial birds are beak-trimmed to reduce
cannibalization.
• Breeding individual chickens to yield more eggs
compounds the problem. Chickens that produce
more eggs are more competitive.
• Instead Muir bred chickens by groups.
• At the end of the experiment Muir's birds' mortality rate was 1/20
that of the control group. His chickens produced three percent
more eggs per chicken and (because of the reduced mortality)
45% more eggs per group.
Wikipedia commons
4
Wilson on groups
Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, practices,
institutions, and evolved psychological mechanisms that
work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and
make social life possible. —Jonathan Haidt
• What holds for chickens holds for other groups as well: teams, military
units, corporations, religious communities, cultures, tribes, countries.
• Groups with rules for working together can often accomplish far more
(emergence) than the sum of the individuals working separately.
• But if a group good (e.g., money) is also an individual good, the group
must have mechanisms to limit cheating (free-ridership).
• Group traits (although they are carried as rules by individuals) evolve
because they benefit the group. Group selection (not just individual
selection) is now accepted as valid. (E.g., insect behavior.)
• These traits may be transmitted genetically (by DNA). They may also
be transmitted culturally (by indoctrination).
Built-in sense of fairness in
both us and chimpanzees.
5
Exploratory behavior
• How can the human genome, with fewer than 25,000 genes produce
– A brain with trillions of cells and synaptic connections?
– The filling out of the circulatory and nervous systems?
• Cell growth followed by die-off produce webbing in duck feet and
bat wings but not in human fingers.
• Military strategy of “probing for weakness.”
• Ant and bee foraging.
• Corporate strategy of seeking (or creating) marketing niches.
The general mechanism is:
• Prolifically generate a wide range of possibilities
• Establish connections to new sources of value in the environment.
Mechanism
generation
Function
explore
Purpose
use result
Bottom up
6
Like water finding a way down hill
From a tutorial on the immune system from the National
Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/understandingcancer/immunesystem.
Microbes attempting to get into your body must first get past your
skin and mucous membranes, which not only pose a physical
barrier but are rich in scavenger cells and IgA antibodies.
Next, they must elude a series of nonspecific defenses—and
substances that attack all invaders regardless of the epitopes they
carry. These include patrolling phagocytes, granulocytes, NK cells,
and complement.
Infectious agents that get past these nonspecific barriers must
finally confront specific weapons tailored just for them. These
include both antibodies and cytotoxic T cells.
Quite a challenge! We are very well defended. But we still get sick!
Some “invaders” will make it past these defenses. The problem is not
even that some get through, it’s that they exploit their success.
How do they find the open pathways? It’s not
“invaders” vs. “defenders.”
Through evolutionary exploratory behavior,
if there is a way, some will inevitably find it.
Innovation is the
(disruptive) invader
not the defender.
Innovative organizations make that inevitability work in their favor.
7
Innovative environments
The Internet
• The inspiration for net-centricity and the GIG
• Goal: to bring the creativity of the internet to the DoD
Other innovative environments
• The scientific and technological research process
• The market economy
• Biological evolution
What do
innovative environments
have in common?
8
Innovative environments
Innovation is always the result of an evolutionary process.
• Randomly generate new variants—by combining and
modifying existing ones.
• Select the good ones.
(Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea)
Requires mechanisms:
• For creating stable and persistent design instances so that
they can serve as the basis for new possibilities.
• For combining and modifying designs.
• For selecting and establishing the better ones.
9
Designs in various environments
Recorded as
Created by
How
instantiated
All
bottom-up
Established
Software
Programmers
who know the
techniques
Self-instantiating
By users
A publication
Scientists who
know the
literature
The publication
is the
instantiation
By peer review
Market
economy
Trade secrets
Product
developers
who know the
tricks
Entrepreneurial
manufacturing
Consumers
Biological
evolution
DNA
Combination
and mutation
Reproduction
Whether it finds
a niche
An implicit design
Construction,
combination
and mutation
Implementation
of a level of
abstraction
Whether it finds
a niche
Internet
Scientific
knowledge
Entities:
nature’s
memes
10
How does this apply to organizations?
To ensure innovation:
Creation and trial
• Encourage the prolific generation and trial
of new ideas.
Establishing successful variants
• Allow new ideas to flourish or wither
based on how well they do.
Sounds simple doesn’t it?
11
Innovation in various environments
New ideas
aren’t the
problem.
Biological
evolution
Entrepreneur
Bureaucracy
Trying them out
Initial funding
Prospect of
failure
Capitalism in
the small.
Nature always
experiments.
Most are failures,
which means
death. (But no
choice given.)
Little needed
for an Internet
experiment.
Perhaps some
embarrassment,
time, money; not
much more.
Proposals,
competition,
forms, etc.
Who wants a
failure in his/her
personnel file—
when “mission
success” is the
corporate motto?
Approvals
Getting
good ideas
Establishment
established
None.
Bottom-up
resource
allocation
defines
success.
Few.
Entrepreneur
wants rewards.
Bottom-up
resource
allocation.
Far too
many.
Managers have
other priorities.
Top-down
resource
allocation.
12