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Emergent beings – V

A flock of starlings seems to have an intelligence of its own, being able to create complex choreographies. Image Credit: Neels Castillon

So far the relation human(s) artefacts has taken the centre stage in this series of posts on Emergent Beings, and indeed “symbioses” involves living beings. This meaning has been extended in the previous discussion to include relations between living being (with a focus on humans) and artefacts.

This makes sense because we are seeing and predicting an evolution of artefacts along the lines of   “awareness-autonomy-evolution” that are specific of life.  Technology evolution is making this possible. It is therefore a natural step to extend the concept of symbioses one step farther applying it to the relation among artefacts, provided they have the aforementioned tuple: awareness-autonomy-evolution.

Interestingly, we have examples in Nature where these properties are not belonging to individual component in a relationship but are emerging when many entities are interacting one another as an ensemble. This is the case of of swarms of bees and one can predict it will be the case for swarms of robots. There is therefore a focus on two categories of symbiotic relations involving solely artefacts:

  • the one where each artefact demonstrates awareness-autonomy-evolution, and
  • the one where the ensemble demonstrates these properties as emerging property.

In the former the symbiotic relationship may occur among few artefacts, an example is the area of robotics where each robot is increasing its awareness capabilities through better sensors and context data analyses, becomes more and more autonomous with technologies supporting analyses and problem solving and through AI/Deep Learning evolves over time.  This will impact several verticals, for sure in Industry 4.0 (manufacturing and retail) and in Health care.

In the latter there is a need for a significant number of artefacts to have these properties emerging and thus creating a symbiotic relationship. There is no defined thresholds above which properties emerge, although in general the simpler the entities involved the more of them are required. We see this happening in Nature where a flock of starlings give rise to amazing choreograph in the sky with some hundred birds whilst in the case of a swarm of bees the number is in the order of several thousands.
These aggregations can be studied with the science of complexity along with other technologies in the domain of AI.

These aggregations, and the emerging properties will be a topic of growing interest in the domain of IoT, although very little studies have focussed on that. The interest derives from the fact that we are moving towards billions of IoT loosely connected through the cyberspace (big data) with one another and we can apply to the cyberspace AI technologies to extract emerging properties and we can use the emerging properties to direct the behaviour of the IoT in the cluster.

This is a completely new domain that will come into play in the next decade as the number of connected IoT will reach a threshold above which awareness-autonomy-evolution can take place. 5G is likely to be an enabling technology in this domain providing the communication fabric whilst the “intention to communicate” will rely onto ever smarter IoTs and clusters of IoTs.

There are a few studies focussing on collaborative robots, like the European funded SWARM project, aiming at improving the collaboration among autonomous systems but they are falling in the first category I discussed, whilst in the future we will see more and more emerging behaviour from a multitude of low intelligent entities, leveraging on their sheer number.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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