Swarm Intelligence

There is a need to educate masses from the grass root level, to bring the people back to basics!

A few days back, I was driving my car and was crossing a bridge which had three narrow lanes. I was in the middle lane. It was a jam packed, bumper to bumper traffic. Suddenly the ambulance siren was heard which had just entered the bridge and was about seven eight vehicles behind me, but on the lane which was on my right. I got worried as to how the ambulance would get a fast and free passage. I started slowing down, creating a gap between me and the car in front of me (of course, at the cost of listening to the honking of horn by the car driver following me). The cars from my right lane started shifting in front of me, one car at a time and the ambulance was moving a little faster. I felt quite relieved when finally ambulance got free passage.

I thought over this incidence and further contemplated on the density of vehicles traffic on multilane roads. I compared the flow of this traffic with that of birds, bees and fish while they move in large numbers. I am sure all of us have seen very large groups of birds, bees and fish and even animals moving as one unit, in the form of waves, if not physically may be on wildlife videos. There seems to be no problem at all of any collisions or disturbance in the smooth flight of hundreds of birds, bees or fishes. The group intelligence needed for such maneuvers is generally known as swarm intelligence. In case of birds, bees and fishes etc., apart from the miracle of fast instinctive communication, the scene of such flights offers a beautiful sight. For example watch, for bird called starling, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOGCSBh3kmM and of fish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIgHEhziUxU ( (Thanks to people who have posted these videos on youtube/ internet).

One can find many more videos on the net about fishes, birds, bees and very large group of running animals in forests of Africa. Even in our own villages such scenes are specifically observed in the wheat harvesting seasons when hundreds of sparrows and other small birds fly in the form of waves in and around wheat fields. These birds do not collide even while moving with tremendous speeds.

Many projects have been done by robotics students where they use artificial intelligence in applying swarm intelligence in micro robots. Dozens of micro robots are put on the move on a large board or in a room. These move with high speeds avoiding collisions.

We now have two examples, first; the natural flight of birds, bees, fishes etc., with instinctive swarm intelligence, and second; the random motion of a group of micro robots programmed, applying swarm intelligence. No collisions are faced in both the cases.

But when it comes to human beings moving in very large groups, like when performing Hajj by Muslims, and many other such examples, there have been many cases of stampede. Also, while considering road traffic on multilane roads, the traffic blocks are an everyday phenomenon (of course primarily due to breaking of traffic rules by individuals or due to less courtesy).

The point to be highlighted here is not the application of externally applied traffic laws, but trying to give a thought on the concept of swarm intelligence. Karen Armstrong in one of her books says, “telepathy; communication by the transfer of thoughts should have been the primary mode of communication of human beings”. But probably it was of higher science which human brains did not accept. However, considering the Ambulance example mentioned above if all the drivers of the vehicles, while moving in large group of cars, intelligently think of the requirements and intentions of other drivers while following fundamental human attributes, I guess all kinds of blockade and problems in the traffic can be solved. Problem is encountered only, when the humanity based rules are broken, when drivers are rude, arrogant, angry, not selfless, not caring etc., thus resulting into traffic blocks. Otherwise the swarm intelligence in human beings is also possible like that of birds and bees etc. Even in micro-robots case when some bug in the programming code is faced, the movement of the robots cannot be collision free and thus the code is to be debugged. Same is true for human beings. When the society seems to be derailed and polluted from fundamental social norms the reading of minds of people (which can only be done on the platform of honesty and morality) while working or moving in a group is IMPOSSIBLE. There is thus the requirement of carrying out thorough debugging. This can only be achieved through excessive efforts of educating the masses from the grass root level. Bringing the people back to basics. When we will repeatedly and consciously do these acts of reading (guessing) others minds and reacting (proactively) accordingly for a better collective outcome, It will become our habit and go into our unconscious. We will then act or move unconsciously like the birds of the video clip. In case of human beings, this will then not stop here but will (can) stretch further to knowing and reacting (pro-actively) to the needs of other people among society, that is; our relatives, neighbors, friends or even passing by strangers without them asking from us; that is what was one of the purposes of creation of human beings. Please give it a thought.

Dr. Akhtar Nawaz Malik


Past – Present – Future

” Live in the present “,
but what exactly is the Present?

There are many quotations, phrases, and concepts that guide us towards the concept of time with reference to Past, Present, and Future. Mentioning a few here; “One should not have worries of the Past, or anxiety of the Future and must try to live in Present instead”. Or another one that says, “Past always seems better than what it actually was, Present feels worse than what it actually is, and the Future seems less resolved than what it actually will be”. The book “Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, also, wonderfully talks about the similar concepts of living in the “Present moment”. Great poet Fani Badayuni, born as Shaukat Ali Khan (1879 – 27 August 1961), created a beautiful ghazel; quoting one couplet of it on the present subject;

ہر نفَس عمرِ گزشتہ کی ہے میّت فانی

زندگی نام ہے مر مر کے جیے جانے کا

(Translation – All living beings are the dead bodies for their past, past that includes the last breath just taken. Life is, thus, a continuous process of dying and living)

It seems quite difficult (at least to me) to get clarity on the significance of the time frame, called “present”. What is the “present” moment? The “present” seems an illusion and we unconsciously think that we are living and working in “present”; it gives us a comfortable feeling that we have time at our disposal. The more one thinks about it, the more confusions are born. Through this text a clarity on the subject is sought. An entity or a domain called “time” is continuously on the move backwards; converting Future to Past, through a very thin line called the “present” moment. The Present Moment in accountable units, is thus an infinitesimal span of time which seems very insignificant. Since we give importance to our “present” time, like the one discussed in the book “Power of Now” and in many religious or social philosophies, there is a dire need to understand how should we define the “Present” time period?

The second line of the above Urdu couplet explains that any living being is the dead body for his past, the past that also includes the moment just passed. The future is the immediate coming “breath”, which converts to Past after it is gone followed by the next.

The question arises as to how should we define our “present” time? This will range from the “smallest time duration” on one extreme to the “biggest time lapse” on the other (that is what needs to be defined). This will vary when we consider the life of an individual, a family or a nation (or any specific group of people or any other creation). An interesting concept given by Alvin Toffler in his book “Future Shock”, where right in the opening pages he divides the life span of human beings into “800 Life Times” is worth contemplating. Another important variable to consider is that the understanding of the time frame varies depending on the physical state of the individual or a family etc., which dictates the mental conditions. For example, the “state” of an individual, family or that of any bigger group may include the financial conditions, the family/social relations, the physical and social environment etc. Any big or “significant change” in any of these and the time span of its “emotional effects” keeps it in the “present”. As soon as the mental or emotional effects get stabilized to normal we can consider that event as the event of the past. Recalling any emotional state by thinking about it and bringing the feelings back still keeps it as the event of the past.

کیا ستم ہے کہ اب تیری صورت

غورکرنے پہ یاد آتی ہے ۔ ۔ ۔ جون ایلیا

(Translation – How painful and cruel it is that it takes quite an effort to recall your face features)

When we are defining the time span called “The Present” for ourselves, we must also consider an important aspect; It should not be that small a duration which keeps us in tension or frustration (because we have to do our life activities in the present time) and also not that long a duration which makes us lethargic (to make us think that there is still enough time). We need to define a comfortable time span (which will be different for different individuals) so as to always “stay” in the present as per all the above-mentioned concepts of giving importance to the “Present”. By this we can manage time and plan our events considering the Past, Present and Future that we are comfortable with.

Dr Akhtar Nawaz Malik