According to Andy Clark “[M]uch of what goes on in the complex world of humans, may thus, somewhat surprisingly, be understood in terms of so-called stigmergic algorithms” (Clark, 1996, p. 279; 1997, p. 186). Pierre-Paul Grassé, the brilliant mind who first conceptualized the notion probably wouldn’t disagree (Grassé, 1959). Grassé was as much a zoologist as he was an entomologist. Under his editorship the monumental (17-volume) Traité de Zoologie, Anatomie, Systématique, Biologie was guided.
Stigmergy – the phenomenon of indirect communication mediated by modifications of the environment – was first conceptualized by zoologist Pierre-Paul Grasse in his ground-breaking work on termite colonies (Grasse 1959). It wasn’t until 1999 that Grasse’s work was brought to a wider audience by Eric Bonabeau et al (1999) in a special issue of Artificial Life. Since then interest in stigmergic systems has blossomed with researchers recognizing the application of Grasse’s insights to stock markets, economies, traffic patterns, supply logistics, computer networks, resource allocation, urban sprawl, and cultural memes. New forms of stigmergy have been exponentially expanded through the affordances of digital technology: Google’s recommendation algorithm, Amazon’s filtering algorithm, wiki, open source software, weblogs, and a whole range of “social media” are now deemed as essentially stigmergic.
Though the concept of stigmergy has typically been associated with ant- or swarm-like “agents” with minimal cognitive ability or with creatures of a somewhat higher cognitive capacity such as fish (schooling patterns) or birds (flocking patterns) or sheep (herding behavior), stigmergy offers a powerful tool to be deployed in the human domain. The editors of this special issue are thus looking for contributions that have human-human (social, organizational, and socio-technical) stigmergy as the main focus.
Proposals are invited from social scientists, social epistemologists, cognitive scientists, economists, group decision theorists, collective intentionality theorists, computational sociologists, network theorists, multi-agent modelers, and indeed researchers from any discipline that has social complexity and coordination as a core topic.
Papers that are theoretical, experimental, or computational in orientation are welcome. Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to lesliemarsh [at] gmail [dot] com with “Stigmergy/Cognitive Systems Research” in the subject line. The deadline for proposals is Nov 1, 2010.
All papers will be subject to double blind review by a least two referees and accepted papers will be published in a special issue of Cognitive Systems Research
Special Issue Editors
Senior Cognitive Research Scientist Air Force Research Lab
711 Human Performance Wing
L-3 Communications Link Simulation & Training
New England Institute of Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Behavior
Grasse, P. P. (1959). La reconstruction du nid et les coordinations interindividuelles chez Bellicositermes natalensis et Cubitermes sp. La theorie de la stigmergie: Essai d’interpretation du comportement des termites constructeurs. Insectes Sociaux, 6(1), 41–83.
Bonabeau, E. (Ed.) (1999). Stigmergy. Artificial Life, Vol. 5, No. 2: 95-202