2008-08-15

Self-organization at the Olympiad: The Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony

The impressive opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games exploited considerably the concept of self-organization in a very artistic fashion.

To start the ceremony, 2008 drummers entered the stadium.

Their drums and sticks had lights, so when the lights went out, beautiful patterns were formed. Then a countdown started (to 2008/08/08, 8:08 pm), and huge numbers were traveling through the drummers across the field in perfect synchronization: 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10. Then the last seconds were very quickly displayed with arabic and chinese numbers.

Later, in the middle of the field a huge movable-type printer started generating beautiful waves and dynamic patterns, including the kanji for harmony.
Which technology did they use for such an amazing and coordinated display? Well, humans, of course...

Another amazing performance was given by 2008 tai chi masters.
They were generating circles and spirals and moving all around in a perfectly coordinated fashion.

How did they achieve all this? PRACTICE! But the idea behind it? Self-organization. Everybody combines global (e.g. music) with local information (e.g. what my neighbors are doing) to keep synchronized. Just like fireflies...

It was not only impressive, but it also carries an interesting message: together we can do much more than individually. You don't need to have extraordinary abilities, but you are part of an extraordinary thing.

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