Live from the GTC – Day 2 Keynote – what swarming locusts, fish, birds, and forum posters share in common
Professor Iain Couzin of Princeton University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology kicked off the Keynote address of Day 2 at GTC 2012. He is one of the first educators who had the foresight to realize the potential of GPU computing for his line of work and he spent two years porting all of his research tools to CUDA long before it became popular to do so.
He believes it was the best investment in time because he is able to do in minutes what used to take weeks to accomplish on the CPU. He detailed his early years as a researcher beginning with a regular GeForce gaming video card and then migrating to Tesla when he had the money to do so.
What he is looking for is the patterns in nature of collective behavior. He was able to demonstrate the similarity of animal groups – think of huge flocks of birds in flight or fish in huge schools that function as a sort of “collective mind”. There is no “telepathy” involved although it was believed to be so not that long ago. Even invading cancer cells in a tumor – or colliding galaxies – and humans, seem to exhibit similar collective behavior in patterns that can be charted using the GPU.
What GPU computing has allowed Dr. Couzin to do is to simulate thousands of individals in an experimental framework and to track their collective behavior. Dr. Couzin was able to demonstrate how collective behavior and collective action emerges in a wide range of groups – from fish and birds to plague locusts and even humans crowds.
He explained how important it is for a group to align and yet not collide – as collision can be fatal in birds. They also need to be able to avoid predators. These are the patterns in nature that are considered models.
One of the most interesting findings is that certain individuals that have information (food, perhaps) influence the group that does not have this information. There is an interesting democritization going on that has implications for human behavior.
The experiment goes to show how the leaders (informed individuals) influence a group and how their influence is mitigated by uninformed individuals. He again stressed how important CUDA is because they want to study thousands of individuals – not just a few.
This has implications for tech forums. Professor Couzin made a surprising discovery that counters conventional wisdom that uninformed humans are more easily influenced by extremists. Instead, his findings suggest that the presence of those without strong views increases the odds that a group will go with the majority opinion. Uninformed individuals in a group are very important as they dilute a minority preference with strongly held preferences and they tend to support the majority.
He gave an interesting example of a person stating on a forum saying that he will buy a Radeon. A person with an strongly held opposite view might interact with this person, suggesting that it is a stupid decision. One person may give this individual pause but is unlikely to change his mind. However when two or more individuals suggest it is a bad decision simultaneously, it may have a much stronger effect on the original purchasing decision
Of course there is a lot of mathematics involved, but it may be expressed as a chart:
Below a critical density of uninformed individuals, the minority with strongly held opinions can easily win. However, when there is a higher density of uninformed individuals, not much happens until suddenly the situation flips and the majority wins. When there is a sufficient amount of people with no bias, the minority cannot win no matter how intransigent they are as demonstrated in the following model.
According to this research, uninformed individuals tend to promote democracy in animals, and of course this suggests further researcher with humans. Professor Couzin went on to suggest that humans interaction is not as complex as we like to think.
There is much more that the Professor presented and he also went on to explain why Locusts migrate to become a plague. You can catch his entire keynote here:
There is much more information coming about the GTX 2012. Make sure to check the ABT forums for breaking news!
ABT Senior Editor
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