Swarm Intelligence: The new power of opinion

The term swarm intelligence originally comes from natural sciences and has meanwhile found its way to the internet. It previously served to describe group behavior of fish-, bird- and locusts-swarms. A couple of years ago it has already been discussed widely in the internet and has now recently resurfaced at GutenPlag, VroniPlag, etc.

Perhaps it is reason enough to take up this issue once again and to briefly introduce it, because GutenPlag has shown what the „swarm“ can provide concerning speed and quality.  When one engages with this issue, it quickly becomes obvious that only few requirements must be met for a successful use of this intelligence. Michael Gisiger described these requirements in his blog „Wortgefecht“ already during the der „swarm hype years“ 2005 quite well:

1. Independency of the members
First of all, the swarm-members must be independent from each other. Thereby, a lower probability comes to exist concerning an influence of opinion leaders.  

2. Decentralization of the member structure
Decentralization means that errors may balance out at the edges and that therefore better results may be achieved. 

3. Diversity of opinion between members
Diversity of opinion can develop especially well when a larger amount of information is available to the members of the swarm as a basis for their decision-making.

4. Opinion aggregation among members
A good opinion aggregation means that the correct assimilation and evaluation of all opinions must be advanced in order to achieve better results.

Examples for swarm intelligence

The example of UPS dates back to that time and is even today and especially coherent example.  In 2006, packages could be delivered faster, the numbers of accidents were reduced and fuel consumption was lowered by 14 million liter, due to a changed logistics-strategy. What happened? UPS drivers reported to their dispatcher that the pre-calculated routes were, as a matter of fact, longer and that turning left required more time than turning right. Due to this information, the routed were improved and efforts were made to reach as many customers as possible by turning right.

Other good example from this time and the following years are Apple, Amazon, IBM or eBay, who all succeeded to strengthen and further develop their business model by providing platforms or supporting swarm-offers. Amazon provides a sales-platform for sellers and offers at the same time a wide range of products for shoppers, without working as a distributor itself. In case of conflicts, Amazon mediates between the parties or supports a smooth transaction of business.

In the last couple of years, different social media offers emerged that explore new paths of communication and cooperation and therefore offer companies the opportunity to benefit from the „intelligence of the swarm“. A nice and easy-to-understand example comes from Herbert Peck, who suggests in his blog the usage of advanced users as customer support.

Who wants to have a further look concerning this issue, should see to the following articles, books and YouTube videos:

http://www.zeit.de/wissen/2010-08/intelligenz-gruppe

Len Fisher SCHWARMINTELLIGENZ „Wie einfache Regeln Großes möglich machen“ Eichborn, Frankfurt/Main 2010 268 S., € 19,95 ISBN 978–3–8218–6525–6

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAcNqgaGq9o