Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Slime Mold vs Traffic Planners

Freakonomics article
MSNBC article

A very elegant experimental setup:

The scientists placed food deposits (oat flakes) in a pattern that mimicked the distribution of population in the greater Tokyo area. They also discouraged mold growth in areas corresponding to obstacles like ocean and mountains by placing light sources (mold’s sworn enemy) in these spots. The researchers then introduced a single deposit of the mold on their mock central Tokyo and let the slime do its thing.

The result? The mold formed a network that closely mimicked the actual Tokyo railway map. In terms of efficiency and fault tolerance, the mold performed about the same as the real Tokyo system, and it did so at a slightly lower cost.


Organic development can complement the planning efforts of a central intelligence. Planners see the big picture, but may have limited information about the small details. Organic planning accumulates the collective wisdom of myriad individuals who each know only a very small part of the picture, but know their part very well.

An interesting thought experiment: think about how this describes how a company functions. Are there any lessons that companies (or any other group effort) can learn from slime molds?

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