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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social Animals
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...
Published on 25 Dec 2010 by A John

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A solid introductory book
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...
Published on 28 Dec 2011 by Karura


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A solid introductory book, 28 Dec 2011
By 
Karura (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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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
By 
Martin Turner "Martin Turner" (Marlcliff, Warwickshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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.

All in all this is a book of fascinating insights into animal behaviour, highly interesting in relation to computer and systems architecture, but rather less compelling in its underlying promise of using animal behaviour to organise our own world.

A notable omission is a discussion of how this relates to Crowdsourcing. The term 'Crowdsourcing' is not in the index, and I don't recall seeing it in the book, although some of the examples, particularly the 'ask the audience' example, are the same. Crowdsourcing relates to harnessing expertise from the crowd, whereas Smart Swarm relates to harnessing organisational, non-expert, intelligence. Nonetheless, the concepts ought to be complementary, and I'm a little puzzled as to why this isn't explored.

This is an interesting read, and will stimulate further thought. However, the rules of organisational intelligence which the author puts together are perhaps insufficient to make this a game-changing book for most businesses.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social Animals, 25 Dec 2010
By 
A John (Uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book but if this piques your interest in complexity and self-organisation you'll have to look beyond., 13 Dec 2010
By 
bomble "bomble" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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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.

In fact, occasional statements in Smart Swarms made me wonder if Miller actually appreciated the hard science of what he was trying to illustrate. For example, in the sub-chapter `What are they learning in those schools', Miller talks about research on real and virtual fish, quoting Couzin's discussion of his simulated fish swimming in circles: `there was absolutely nothing in equations of motion for this model that said go around in circles'. Miller then discusses the work of Ioannou on actual fish behaving in the same manner and writes `one reason might be strategic'. This statement seems to miss the point completely - if the emergent property of the primitive individual behaviours is swimming in a torus... this doesn't need any other explanation, strategic or otherwise.

I suspect that Miller's perspective is coloured by his background in the natural world and the powerful theory of Darwinian evolution which, in part, seeks to explain why one property or behaviour led to survival. I see the same information and conclude that a survival-behaviour can lead to other `quirky' emergent properties. In the end it's just an interpretation. But despite loving this book for its treatment of the fascinating creatures on this planet, I was less impressed by Miller's writing on the applications of this in computer modelling and human interactions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The smart crowd, 8 Dec 2010
This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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There were so many things I did not know about ants when I started this book! Did you know that after the initial foray at the start of the day, each ant going out to forage needs to touch antennae with just the right number of incoming ants before it sets off? Too many and it is possible a predator is lurking outside; too few and there is a possibility that the predator has already killed those that went out earlier!

Did you know that when the ants clean out there nest, each ant sort of wanders around randomly and picks up a bit of detritus and seems to haphazardly drop it a short distance away? Yet a time lapse of the whole colony shows the dirt building up in a ridge in a very organized way.

Now, neither of these behaviours involves free choice or intelligent decision making. Each has an evolutionary advantage to the colony and has been ruthlessly reinforced by natural selection. Each ant could be modelled in a computer with a simple automaton and the colony would show collective intelligence.

The biological examples covered in the book range far and wide: a shoal of fish avoiding a predator; a flock of starlings; an ant or bee colony. We also see examples such as the modelling of the battle scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where each protagonist is given a simple set of rules to follow and yet we the viewers see an organized and realistic battle scene.

I feel that the book only fails when it tries to explain in layman terms some of the applications of swarm behaviour. For instance, the example is given of two models for airline seat booking: conventional, where you queue to check in and reserve a seat, and EasyJet, where there is a free-for-all to grab a seat. Each involves queues and delays, if you want a good seat or a group wish to sit together. A third method is mentioned, where you arrive at boarding early, reserve a queue in the line and then go off until boarding starts. This model is superior because checkin is shorter and you don't have to stay in a queue for hours. The only problem is, what does it have to do with smart swarms?

An example is also given of the shortest path algorithm, where ants find a trail to food and on return lay down a scent trail: this scent trail is reinforced on the shortest path, relative to the longer paths from colony to food, for the simple reason that in a given time a greater number of ants will be able to follow a short trail back and forth than will be able to follow any longer one. This one I liked, because it is similar to the well-known algorithm to solve this problem, an algorithm that can be applied in a similarly haphazard manner. However, when, instead, the travelling salesman problem is considered, the argument failed even this mathematician!

So, an interesting book with lots of insight into how complicated looking tasks can be solved by a swarm using simple behaviour, but with some contrived examples to confuse the reader. Overall, recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating stuff!, 27 Aug 2010
This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
This was a great book. It's basically a comparison between the way that humans and animals work in groups. He shows how various groups of animals, like bees, ants and fish, solve complex problems with solutions that use ingenious teamwork. He distills the principles of how the animals work together and shows how they are being used to solve problems that humans face, like how to route electricity around a country in the most efficient way, or how to solve the postman problem.

The postman problem is when you try to work out the quickest route between all the different houses on a postman's trip. This is easy when you have a small amount of houses, as you can just write an equation that quickly calculates the answer. But when the number of houses becomes very large, the possibilities to choose the right answer from are so great that the equation takes ages to calculate. When there are a large number of houses, it's actually quicker to find the answer through trial and error. Ants solve this problem when trying to find things by leaving a pheromone trail, and as more and more ants start following the ants which make good choices, other ants follow them, until you get a system that exaggerates good answers and minimizes bad ones.

There are other examples of different sorts of business and engineering problems, and the clever ways that the other animals perform similar tasks that use clever voting systems, and methods of measuring and communicating the opinions of ever member of the group. There are a number of good business stories that show how some of the animals' secrets have been put to good use in companies, and how they've transformed the way they do things, and it also talks about all sorts of groups of clever people who are copying the strategies that the animals have evolved over millions of years of evolution.

I got into this one so quickly. It's a really interesting insight into teamwork, and really easy to read - definitely one to recommend.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Come on, come on, let's work together..., 20 Mar 2011
By 
Perry Duke (York) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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I really enjoyed reading this. It's one of those books that makes you feel you've learned something and been thoroughly entertained at the same time. Peter Miller manages to explain complex behaviours simply, entertainingly and clearly.

There are sections on how honeybees choose the best location for a new hive, how termites make trails, how flocks of birds fly seemingly in perfect synchrony and why locusts biting each other's legs can tell us something about human crowds in confined spaces. It's well written, flowing seamlessly from one tale to the next. The author introduces the scientists behind each section and engages you with their work and their discoveries - wonderful.

It's not really going to tell you anything much about board meetings - it's mostly about biology, not business. But it's a lot more interesting.

A good, informative read. Five stars.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read., 27 Sep 2012
By 
Uni Student - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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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, organisational and problem solving behaviour. It discusses how if humans are in a big group, they act much like animals act, and therefore by modelling animal swarms, behaviour of groups of humans can be predicted.

Each chapter is divided up into an animal, and explores their behaviour, explores current research on that topic and ties it into how it can be used to relate to human behaviour. The chapters are: Ants, Honeybees, Termites, Birds of a feather and locusts, with an introduction and a conclusion also.

This book is an interesting popular science book which is very easy to read. I recommend it if you are interested in reading popular science books or about behaviour and social aspects of behaviour in particular.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of the complex, dynamic collaborations found in nature, 19 Dec 2011
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 collaborations found in nature.

These collaborations and the scientific process of their discovery are explored in detail, and with beautiful writing clarity, along with examples of inspired-by-nature solutions to some of our more impenetrable puzzles.

As the book progresses he uncovers four key collaboration traits, namely Self Organisation, Diversity of Information, Indirect Collaboration and Adaptive Mimicking.

Ant colonies use self organisation to solve problems by distributing tasks across a very large number of individuals, using a system based on a few very simple rules. The end result is efficient resource allocation in complex, unpredictable and rapidly changing systems - an ideal model for resolving computational-hungry problems such as efficient aircraft boarding and the travelling salesman scenario.

Bee colonies exhibit diversity of information through individually acquired knowledge, which gives each bee a slightly different perspective. Decisions are made on a majority voting process, but crucially an individual only votes after they have personally assessed the situation. The end result is sound decision making, which isn't based on a follow-the-crowd scenario. It's a technique that has been successfully used by Boeing's flight operations, test and validation (FOT&V) organisation.

Termites use indirect collaboration to work together as a single unit, combining a multitude of small shared contributions. The end result is a process that can effectively and efficiently tackle very large projects and is an ideal model for networks and self-healing systems. Wiki sites, blogs and social tagging all work on this stigmergy basis.

Flocking birds, schooling fish and herding animals rely on adaptive mimicking to achieve their spontaneous and highly coordinated displays. Yet it all happens simply by each individual watching a few of their closest neighbours. Recognising how this works, helps to understand crowd flow dynamics, predict patterns at mass-protest events and design stadiums and other similar large-crowd structures.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a great read for business, sociology and psychology students, 19 Oct 2011
By 
L. mckay "brookes_bargain_books" (scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World (Hardcover)
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This is a great entry level read for the study of the chaos theory, behavioral studies (both animal and human)and business studies.
Well written as not preachy and great use of examples from the animal world.
Fascinating.
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Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World
Smart Swarm: Using Animal Behaviour to Organise Our World by Peter Miller (Hardcover - 5 Aug 2010)
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