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Monday, December 27, 2010

Smart Swarms Book Reviewed

Just read: The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done.  by Peter Miller.   We used swarm and complexity technologies in the enterprise as models for complex, difficult to solve problems. This book mentions work with companies we also used there.  Specifically a chapter on Bios Group, a spin-off from the Santa Fe Institute,  which merged with NuTech, and was ultimately absorbed by Netezza.  I still know some of the participants in that group who are doing excellent new work.   Chapter One:  'Ants', well describes their work with a difficult scheduling problem with Air Liquide

More attention is paid to the biological inspiration for these kinds of problems than the specific technical solutions to industrial examples.  That is OK, but may be disappointing to those with a problem ready to solve.

Interesting and well described is the section detailing how traveling salesperson routing problems can be solved using biologically inspired methods.  It should be noted though that this is not the usual way these these problems are typically solved today, for a number of technical reasons. 

 Even if you don't actually use this kind of model to solve a problem, the book is useful as a way to understand shoppers, consumers, elements of a supply chain, friends and anything that consists of many simple components that communicate in simple ways. This is not a technical book, and will not help you in either precisely formulating or solving these problems.  It also shows how simulation methods, in general, are useful.  You will still need professional help to proceed.

  Complexity models can be applied as a way  to simulate, explore solutions and thus improve systems. This book is a very non-technical overview.  For a more technical view, see the Swarm Development Group wiki.

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