Another dot in the blogosphere?


Posted on: November 21, 2017

I first found out about “superorganisms” when I was an undergraduate student.

Animals like ants, termites, and bees synergise to respond to their environment like a larger organism would. They do so in more complex ways they would otherwise do individually. For example, termites build cathedral-like mounds and ants form rafts to fjord waterways. The whole is more than just the sum of its parts.

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Recently I found out that the superorganism phenomenon is linked to a larger concept — emergence. The video above explains this with many diverse examples.

The concept of emergence is also linked to some forms of artificial intelligence (AI). Instead of creating AI that learns from humans, humans have created simple robots that behave like ants. Each robot responds simply individually, but they could be capable of more complex responses collectively.

This mimics the billions of neurons in each of our brains. Each neuron fires (or not) and is linked to other neurons. This collective on/off system seems to be the basis of artificial neural networks.

What might scare people is the realisation that our seemingly complex thinking has such simple roots. The very concept of life boils down to dead chemicals interacting under the basic laws of physics and mathematics.

It can be mind-boggling that macroscopic phenomena are shaped ultimately by molecular interactions. Our reactions might range from freaking out at the thought to taking advantage of it.

I say we do the latter. On a meta plane, we might ask ourselves: What is the role of the individual in truly collaborative learning? How about the importance of emergence in learning?

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