Saturday, August 29, 2009

Self Organizing Systems - The Rule of Law

I'm going to start with Disney. One of the most interesting developments in computer animation in the mid 90's was the use of Agent Based Modeling in the movie The Lion King. There is a scene in the movie that calls for thousands of Wildebeests to charge into a gorge. Using traditional animation techniques to complete this scene would have been impossible.
Using a technique called agent based modeling, they were able to create each wildebeest, give each one a set of rules which would govern its individual behavior with respect to the others and the turn it loose. For a simple example of such a system see the Boids applet at the ( page by Craig Reynolds.
If you give individual actors a key set of rules, random characteristics and behaviors, you can observe complex phenomenon. In the traffic models I have written you could observe patterns in the traffic that occur in the real world without ever planning or explicitly coding for them. It was self emergent behavior. I'm sure there are many examples in contemporary video games.
People also have various learned and instinctive behaviors, some we are aware of, and some we aren't. Take the simple act of choosing a path across a school campus. There are obstacles, crossings, and other people (agents). If you are a keen observer of people you may have noticed that when someone approaches a sidewalk at an acute angle to cross it, they change their angle within the last few feet of the approach to minimize the distance of the crossing. That is they cross at an angle closer to the perpendicular than the angle of their path in general.
Another example from my own experience: When two individuals are walking towards each other there is a set of unspoken signals exchanged between the two meant to communicate the intended path each wishes to take. Subtle signals are given with the eyes, the next set of signals may be given with a leading shoulder or a sharp shift in direction, or even slightly stepping to the side or looking down to yield. In order to see the full concert of these behaviors just watch for the jostling that begins just before the two individuals come face to face not knowing on which side to pass. I'm sure everyone is familiar with this from experience.
This is an example of a mixture of instinctive and learned behavior. In England pedestrians tend to pass on the left by default, whereas in the USA they pass on the right which happens to mirror the road traffic. Any violation of this convention is communicated through nearly subconscious body language.
I believe human beings have a wealth of such characteristics and rules programmed into us as inherited traits. In order for these traits to work though we have to be free to use them.
Laws in a free society work the same way, and with the same results. Only if people are given a set of rules, and a free environment in which to use them can the complex phenomena manifest themselves. If you believe that people evolved, either macroscopically or just within species, then you must also believe that these complex phenomena exist. Regardless of evolution or not we know they do exist.
Take for example Adam Smiths invisible hand. It is a prime example of the power of complex phenomenon of a self emergent system from agent based behavior. It is also an example of the ability of free markets to meet the needs of the people through a whole series of win-win transactions.
In order for us to reach our true potential our choices shouldn't be suppressed by well meaning individuals who would rather manage the population rather than let them be free agents. In doing so they set for themselves an impossible task, because everyone _is_ an agent and will make their own choices anyway. It would be as if the animator at Disney had chosen to draw each frame of the stampede by hand, rather than appreciating the beauty of the emergent pattern made up of the individual wildebeests even with their simple and limited set of rules.
There is a principal here. Complex societies require freedom. This was known at the founding of the USA. The concept of God given rights is an acknowledgment of the necessity of freedom. The concept of the equality and the rule of law is a corollary to the rules in the animators agent based technique. The animators admitted that some things just can't possibly be managed from the top down with good effect.
It is time that those who believe in a managed society learn the same thing. Our interactions with each other as citizens have to be rooted in equality and the rule of law. If they are, then our interactions will for the most part be mutually beneficial. Our interactions are far too complex to manage, and the results are impossible to duplicate using another technique.
There really is such a thing as win-win. If we are free to use our innate abilities for the benefit of ourselves and others we can see great things emerge, just as America did more than two centuries ago.