Just Like Ants, Computers Learn From the Bottom Up

September 10, 2001 | Source: New York Times

Emergence — the phenomenon of self-organization, represented by feedback systems and intelligent software that anticipates our needs — is embodied by “bottom-up” systems that use “relatively simple components to build higher-level intelligence,” says Steven Johnson in the new book, EMERGENCE: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software.For example, city residents create distinct neighborhoods and simple pattern recognition software learns to recommend new books or music based on our previous choices.

Johnson compares the collective intelligence exhibited by ant colonies with the “bottom-up powers of emergence” exhibited by games like the best-selling SimCity, learning in immune systems, self-organizing embryos, and cities as organisms.

He predicts that that personal digital television recorders like TiVo and Replay will eventually lead to the demise of the network TV programmer and that “the entertainment world will self-organize into clusters of shared interest, created by software that tracks usage patterns and collates consumer ratings.”