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Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World [Hardcover]

Don Tapscott , Peter Miller
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Aug 2010

How Understanding Flocks, Schools and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making and Getting Things Done.

The modern world may be obsessed with speed and productivity, but twenty-first century humans actually have much to learn from the ancient instincts of swarms. A fascinating new take on the concept of collective intelligence and its colourful manifestations in some of our most complex problems, Smart Swarm introduces a compelling new understanding of the real experts on solving our own complex problems relating to such topics as business, politics, and technology.

Based on extensive globe-trotting research, this lively tour from National Geographic reporter Peter Miller introduces thriving throngs of ant colonies, which have inspired computer programs for streamlining factory processes, telephone networks, and truck routes; termites, used in recent studies for climate-control solutions; schools of fish, on which the U.S. military modelled a team of robots; and many other examples of the wisdom to be gleaned about the behaviour of crowds-among critters and corporations alike.

In the tradition of James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds and the innovative works of Malcolm Gladwell, Smart Swarm is an entertaining yet enlightening look at small-scale phenomena with big implications for us all.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Collins (5 Aug 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0007279906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007279906
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 502,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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‘Smart Swarm blends zoology, entertaining anecdotes and conceptual discussion in an approachable and insightful way.’ – New Scientist

‘‘Smart Swarm blends zoology, entertaining anecdotes and conceptual discussion in an approachable and insightful way.’ – New Scientist

‘There have been other recent books about swarm intelligence, and the wisdom of crowds, but Miller's book is the sharpest, most readably intelligent guided tour of current thinking and research about collective intelligence and nature's basic collaborations.’ – Iain Finlayson, The Times

‘Peter Miller gives us a lively account of how studying the collective habits, actions and instincts of animals in the wild means that we can apply these strategies to organising and communicating in our own world. – The Times, Eureka

‘I loved The Smart Swarm. It's been a while since I was this stimulated by a book, or saw so many practical applications. And what a great read' – Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics

There have been other recent books about swarm intelligence, and the wisdom of crowds, but Miller's exploration of the insect hive mind is fascinating enough, but his real interest is in the way humans can harness this phenomenon to structure businesses.’ – BBC Focus

‘It all makes for a fascinating read, not least for the insight Miller provides into the arcane workings of the animal kingdom. The book also raises interesting questions about our own behaviour and what it takes for us to work for a common goal.’ – BA Business Life

About the Author

Peter Miller has been a writer and senior editor at National Geographic for over twenty-five years. He lives with his wife PJ in Reston, Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A solid introductory book 28 Dec 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In the animal kingdom, there are many examples of groups working together for the greater good, and in this book, Peter Miller covers a number of different examples. From bees choosing a new hive to termites repairing their mound, each chapter explains how individuals can come together to form units in a super-organism.

Given that one of the academics in my former research group works in the field of complexity science, with an emphasis on the critical behaviour of ant colonies, I thought it would be interesting to see what this book had to say on the subject. Of course, this is an introductory book rather than a technical or mathematical text, but there is still plenty of good material. It's questionable as to whether the book really fulfils its selling point of teaching cooperative tactics that can be used in the boardroom, but in all honesty, this doesn't matter - it's still filled with interesting facts and observations about how various different species of animals have evolved various systems of cooperation.

Unfortunately, the writing style is not always as coherent as it could be, and there are points where this obscures the point the author is making - for example, during the bee chapter, the explanation of how the hive chooses a new location is not only somewhat confusing, but appears to contradict itself later in the chapter. It's passages like these that make the book less useful than it could have been if it had just had a bit more clarity.

Overall, while not quite as good as it could have been, this is a decent enough introductory book on the subject. You may not want it to keep it on your shelf forever, but if you're interested in the subject, it's worth reading at least once.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Organisational intelligence 13 Feb 2011
This is a book about how the lessons of organisation from ants, bees and birds (among others) can be applied to the questions of organisation among humans. It is written in a journalistic rather than scientific style and, although fascinating in terms of the insights it gives into hive life, flock behaviour and the extraordinary behaviour of termite colonies, it is not always clear how exactly these lessons can be applied.

The keystone of the book is that distributed intelligence can work among largely unintelligent organisms with very short memories by exploiting positional information, and each organism responding to its near neighbours. Birds in a flock, for example, can act as a super organism as each bird responds only to six or seven of its near neighbours. Honey bees can pseudo-democratically determine the best choice of hive location by the extent to which bees 'lobby' for their choice, and the extent to which other bees fall in with this. While no single entity controls or understands what is happening, the overall decision making process can produce highly optimal results.

The use of computer software 'agents' which follow simple rules is shown in Smart Swarm to be a highly useful programming tool which can solve problems in linear regression, such as choosing the best combination of flights and holiday resorts, far more efficiently than traditional methods. However, the applications to local democracy in Vermont, described in detail, are a little more far-fetched, and it's difficult to see how these things are 'like' the smart swarms in nature, except by analogy and metaphor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social Animals 25 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a book about social behaviour - looking at the research into the behaviour of ants, honeybees, termites and starlings and showing how this can be used to improve systems, and to understand some human behaviour.

I really enjoyed reading this. It was fascinating to read about how the insects and birds coordinated their behaviour, and how this knowledge can help both business, and understanding how humans behave. While we may often act as individuals, our behaviour in a crowd can be remarkably similar to that of starlings, for example. I also found myself drawing my own parallels. Our human tendency is often to go with the "popular" route, and I found myself considering how this could lead to a single error starting a domino effect in others.

I would describe the book as falling into the "popular psychology" category. It's an interesting read, and one which can spark ideas. It's also easy to read, so if, like me, you are the kind of person who loves documentaries, this makes a good book to curl up with on the sofa.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By bomble TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Smart Swarm is, undoubtedly, a fascinating and accessible read. Peter Miller, Senior Editor at National Geographic, evidently has a wonderful grasp of the natural world as well as a genuine skill of summarising and presenting diverse scientific research in a readable format. For this, his book deserves the highest praise; I devoured the pages all too rapidly and will hopefully find time to re-read it before long.

In each chapter, Miller focuses on a member or group from the animal kingdom, presents their behaviours and the current state of research in these areas, and then tries to tie this to human behaviours and potential lessons. I don't know Miller's background beyond being an editor at Nat Geo, but I would hazard a guess that he's spent a good proportion of his time studying the natural world. His descriptions of ants, bees, termites etc. carry such enthusiasm and wonder that I found myself with a broad grin across my face for much of the time I was reading this.

However, the subject matter is far from new. I am a systems engineer and the concept of `emergence' of properties goes back centuries. It became a buzz-word in the mid nineties and I have read numerous articles and books touching on the subject since. The outstanding "Frontiers of Complexity: The Search For Order in a Chaotic World" by Coveney and Highfield does a much better job than Smart Swarms of illustrating how multiple interactions following simple rules can result to spectacular properties at system and collective level, albeit in a somewhat more academic/essayist style.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read.
This book reviews studies carried out on the social behaviour of animals such as termites, locusts and birds, and links it to how it can be used to help humans in their social,... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Uni Student
4.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of the complex, dynamic collaborations found in nature
Peter Miller used his 25 years as editor and writer for National Geographic, to create a fascinating, thought-provoking book that explores some of the complex, dynamic... Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2011 by David Briddock
4.0 out of 5 stars a great read for business, sociology and psychology students
This is a great entry level read for the study of the chaos theory, behavioral studies (both animal and human)and business studies. Read more
Published on 19 Oct 2011 by L. mckay
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful thoughts really
A famous computer scientist (Djikstra) once said that the worst thing to happen to Computer Science was the invention of the computer. Read more
Published on 17 Jun 2011 by Paul Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining & Enlightening
Peter Millers SMART SWARM gives a good overview of one of the most focal research issues for complex system dynamics, i.e. Read more
Published on 23 May 2011 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and easy read, full of valuable insight
Peter Miller has brought together information from many sources to bring us a well-structured and compelling introduction to the intelligence of swarms. Read more
Published on 19 May 2011 by Mr. P. HAIGH
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to the world of swarm intelligence
The intelligence of a swarm has always interested me and this book is an excellent introduction into the emergence of intelligence from swarms. Read more
Published on 9 May 2011 by khisanth
4.0 out of 5 stars When the whole is mightier than the sum of the parts
Not surprisingly for a Senior Editor at National Geographic Magazine, Peter Miller makes a complex and potentially dry scientific topic not only accessible but also absolutely... Read more
Published on 3 April 2011 by Steve Benner
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insights
I had to fight off my husband and daughter to read this ... it is a fascinating book, some very telling insights into collective behaviours, some of which was completely new to me... Read more
Published on 27 Mar 2011 by Polly Potter
5.0 out of 5 stars A smartly-swarming snapshot of the blind watchmakers cleverness.
Smart Swarm

This is a popular science book which energetically and enthusiatically looks at the emergent behaviour of swarms and crowds and how this behaviour can teach... Read more
Published on 21 Mar 2011 by Paolo Sammut
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