Decision-Making in Animal Communities – Remodelling Global Cooperation

“There is a way,  if we allow ourselves to be guided by nature’s optimism and nature’s wisdom.”

Jay Harman, The Shark’s Paintbrush, p. 289.

In this blogpost, we will explore ways that nature can provide inspiration for The Global Challenges Prize 2017: A New Shape. We will focus the attention on swarm intelligence.

Bees use real-time negotiation to make decisions. Humans often have a less accurate approach to making predictions and to decision making. We use polls and votes, we polarise things.”Instead of finding common ground, they force us to entrench in predictions and make it harder for us to find the best answer for the group.” Louis Rosenberg

Organisations like the UN are getting bigger and this is problematic. Since the formation of the UN in 1945, the UN system, or the UN families, have added issues that they are dealing with, for example, sustainability and climate change.

You can see an interesting sketch below from 1943 by Franklin Roosevelt of the UN original three branches: The Four Policemen, an executive branch, and an international assembly of forty UN member states.

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Photo By Franklin D. Roosevelt – Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40093370

“Organizations can’t keep growing the way we structure them today.”

Tamsin Wolley-Barker compares organisations to dinosaurs. Dinosaurs needed huge bones to support their weight and the more weight, the more bones, and the more weight. In the end, the dinosaurs were too big.

“In regards to relative bone strength, the larger animals are at a much greater risk of breaking their bones than the smaller animals. The likelihood that a broken bone will cut an animal’s life short is a strong possibility for the larger animals. This possibility of broken bones affecting the animal’s survival thus becomes a limitation on the size of the largest animals.” From “The problem with big dinosaurs.

Management is like a skeleton that supports an organisation so that it does not collapse. But when an organisation grows the cost of management is escalating, which could be problematic.

Also, a  more worrying trend when an organisation grows is that the ability to change quickly declines.

Nature uses hierarchies all the time as a way to prevent things from changing.  Animal societies have dominance hierarchy. However, research suggests that cooperation is impeded among chimpanzees as compared to cottontop tamarins. Chimpanzees live in steep and linear hierarchies in contrast to the more relaxed form of hierarchies that cottontop tamarins use.

Hierarchies may be important and there are ways to build a better hierarchy but if you want to build an organisation that can easily adapt to change, it is not an optimal structure. Hierarchies limits growth. Thus, to re-envision global governance for the challenges that face us in the 21st century, we need to develop new models.

Can animals provide any inspiration for new models of global cooperation?

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Photo Subith Premdas

Teams of ants, termites or bees are often used as inspiration to explore how organisations work. Ants termites and bees are organisms with colonies consisting of sometimes millions of individuals. Yet together these work as a single organism. The labour is divided and one individual is helpless and cannot survive for long. By working together these organisms create abundance in harsh environments. They find a way of using things that often are overlooked by other creatures.

These animals use an open-ended structure that is dynamic and which allows them to quickly respond to changes in the environment. Yet, they lack a commander. They survive, or at least appears to, without making any forecasts and budgets. Instead, there is a smooth adaption to change, where all the individual creatures are contributing. The interactions between ants, termites and bees might be simple, nevertheless, together they can solve difficult problems.

Social insects have the following characteristics:

  • flexibility
  • robustness
  • self-organization

Social organisms can quickly adapt to change and even when one or more individuals in the group fail to achieve the task, the group can still perform the task. Finally, the activities performed by the group are neither centrally controlled nor or they locally supervised.

Using this approach to decision-making as inspiration to design global cooperation may indeed be a challenge.

A challenge, fun and above all perhaps a  necessary approach. We all know deep in our hearts that we face many problems. The future viability of our race is in danger. Nature constantly reinvents itself. We need to reinvent global cooperation with a similar irresistible optimism.

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Photo By Neptuul – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31552107

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World Governance Challenge – $5 million

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The Global Challenges Foundation, founded by the Swedish billionaire László Szombatfalvy, has launched an international competition in order to find a better system for world governance. The Global Challenges Prize 2017: A New Shape is calling on individuals, groups of individuals, universities, companies or associations from anywhere in the world to submit proposals outlining an alternative world governance model – either by revising the present UN system or by proposing completely new forms of governance. A total of US $5 million will be distributed amongst the shortlisted entries and The Foundation is committed to supporting the winning ideas towards.

As we are never impressed by the huge complexity of a thinking challenge – or at least pretend not to be, nor impressed by the very experts that have given it some thinking. So we will try – just for fun, for building up further Thinkibility skills while gathering some knowledge about the working of world governance mechanisms.

How to start?

We know one thing for sure (but we are of optimistic): We will never come up with better ideas than the experts and people who have already extensively thought about systems of world governance. So, we must be smart and have to rely on creative thinking techniques, instead of accepted scientific theories and critical thinking. We will take advantage of the curses of experience we earlier wrote about.

Preparing the thinking is a very important step. Therefore, we made a mindmap where we can collectively put all notes we have, in some categories.

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  • The Challenge. What is the focus of the thinking? To really understand what ideas are solicited for and avoiding coming up with brilliant ideas for the wrong problems.
  • The Criteria. What are the criteria the solution must meet? Criteria narrow the thinking task and make it more specific.
  • Available information. Here we put all we find about the current operating of world governing bodies, their problems,  like Wikipedia entries, news articles, scientific reports, etc. We will be extra alert of what is “left out”. What is not mentioned, what is relevant information, but not available.
  • Current thinking. As our first orientation of the problem progress, we get some notions of recurrent themes, sought solutions or ideas for improvement. We know that one of the easiest ways to get ideas is to escape from the current way of doing things. At this time we only notice them. At a later time, we will spell out what assumptions are underlying current thinking.
  • Departing points. After some reading and playing around, mostly there will emerge some “entry points”. For example some defining characteristics of the situation that are inviting us for some provocative thinking.
  • Beginning ideas. At the same time some hunches, associations and possible metaphors will enter the brain, and we make it a disciplined habit to write these down, how primitive and incoherent, even childish they might be formulated.

Now we have prepared our mindset and can we carefully design some 20 minutes Idea Boosts after we have broken down the subject in some well-defined Idea Sensitive Areas.

If you like to join us, send us a mail, and we give you access to our workspace.

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Grow your own House! Plants and Robots working together

What if you could grow your own house?

flora robotica is an exciting project funded under the EU-Horizon 2020 Future and Emerging Technologies Proactive Action. The aim is to develop and investigate a symbiotic relationship between plants and robots. One idea is to develop plant-robots that can build and create living spaces and architectural artefacts.

The tricky bit is to control the growth so that the plants grow in the desired shapes. The team has explored the idea to grow plants through white scaffolding with black strips woven into it to help guide the shape. The strips have LED lights and sensors that lure the plants to grow into shapes that have been pre-programmed. Computers and 3D-printed nodes constantly monitor the growth.

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This is a long-term building project and with the interaction of humans, the plants and robots create meaningful architectural structures. Patience is needed, and it may take around 40 years to build your house. But maybe a super fast growing plant can be used!

This is a symbiotic relationship and robot support and controls the biological plants at the same time the biological plant guides the robotic plant through growth towards for example light. The plant also provides support for the weight of the robot during the later growth phases.

The team at flora robotica are also exploring ways to weave braided structures. These structures could result in the development of bendable arms.  Similar to puppets’ arms that move when someone pulls a string.

What would you like to grow?

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What year is this? – Suffering and Artifical Intelligence

Imagine that a time machine could transport you to a medieval village.
What if you asked a villager “What year is this?”

What would the reply be?

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In the brilliant book Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind, the author Yuval Noah Harari  says that the question would have bewildered the person. The cycles of natural time and organic growth were observed and important for people living in a medieval village. They observed the sun and weather. There was a lack of daily routines, instead, the tasks and the routines changed from months to months, depending on the season. In short, the person would not have been able to tell you what year it was.

In contrast, modern industry cares little about the sun or the season. It is built around the idea that life should be organised, uniform and precise. And many of us spend the first weeks of each new year, trying to remember exactly what year it is. It is important to get the year right.

Take a moment to reflect on how time not only organises your life but also how it makes you feel.

Today, we can tell the time by looking at the screen on the laptop, our wristwatch, or the TV. It is difficult being unaware of what time it is and we also have an idea about how long time it should take to do something. And if it takes longer than expected, we might feel anxious and under pressure to complete the next task quicker.

We evaluate time by looking at how we feel. An hour chatting with our friends flies away quickly, while an hour at a meeting at work can seem like an eternity. We may feel happy during the former hour while the latter makes us suffer. We have gone from being free to become in some sense prisoners of time. But what about the future? Where are we heading?

Much of our thinking is shaped by our suffering. Human cognition gets sharper as well as more muddled because we suffer so much. The question is if it is necessary to include suffering in artificial thinking. Can there be real artificial intelligence without exposure to suffering and pain? If yes, what would happen to our time fixated society?

Go here to read more of our blog posts about Thinking and Time.Kismet_robot_20051016

Photo Kismet

E-commerce and Daily Thinking – A Thinkibility Nibble

In our blog post Daily Thinking – Discovering Patterns we showed some alarming daily thinking habits, like assuming that there is a linear, unambiguously relation between a cause and an effect. For example, it is assumed that increasing e-commerce will reduce traffic. People will less … Continue reading

Terrifying and Exciting! The Power of Big Data

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Thinking in Images

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Most people think in words. When asked to imagine a traffic accident they come up with not very detailed descriptions, in comparison with people who are thinking in pictures. It became even worse if the words are becoming more and more abstract. Words as society, market, law, inflation etc. stay for them just words; they are unable to convert the words into images. Picture thinkers don’t have to translate, they think in pictures.

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As school systems are mainly auditory-sequential oriented, it is not surprising that mainly visual-spatial thinkers will have problems at school. Usually, they encounter learning difficulties. But not only at school. Most picture thinkers don’t fit well in traditional companies and institutions. They do things in other ways than expected or “normal”, due to “weaknesses” in thinking.

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Picture thinkers are also called right-brainers, as some popularisations oversimplify the science about lateralization, by presenting the functional differences between hemispheres as being more absolute than is actually the case.

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We have also committed to this theoretical sloppiness with left/right brain generalisations, although, a handy mini theory to generate creative ideas as we have demonstrated in Blocking the Left Brain Functions.

As we wrote in left brain/right brain thinking, the debate regarding about what goes on in our left and right brain hemispheres seems like a never-ending story. You will find support for the idea that creative people use the right hemisphere while people who are good at organising things are using their left hemisphere. But we can also find support for the idea that creative and non-creative thinking are not two different things but are more reinforcing each other.

The idea that the brain has different specialised functions that can be used to improve memory, learning and thinking are also the part of the foundation behind mind mapping.

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A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future, a book by Daniel H. Pink, posits that the future of global business belongs to the right-brainers. He outlines six essential senses:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  • Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humour and light-heartedness to business and products.
  • Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.

Daniel Pink is one of an increasing number of writers on the importance of the Conceptual Economy, as a follow-up of the Information and Knowledge Age. Conceptual economy is a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context. Other contributors to our understanding of the conceptual economy include Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, Tom Kelley’s The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, explaining the role of assets such as empathy, storytelling, individual experiences and stimulating work environments in fostering creative ideas.

The discussion about the necessity to escape from dominant linear-sequential thinking was earlier argued by Howard Gardner. He developed The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind:

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In one of our next blog posts, we will give hints and tricks together with some useful resources to become “picture smart”. An essential skill to use mind mapping to the fullest of its advantages.