TEDxDF talk: Semáforos auto-organizantes

Last November I had the honor of participating in TEDxDF with a talk on self-organizing traffic lights. You can watch the video (in Spanish) at:

Mejorar el transporte público de la Ciudad de México es una idea que a todos se nos ocurre, pero pocos hacemos algo al respecto. Este no es el caso de Carlos, un apasionado del estudio científico de la complejidad: ¿Cómo podemos diseñar componentes de un sistema para que, por medio de sus interacciones, realicen una función deseada a nivel del sistema? Con su ponencia Carlos responderá esta pregunta y expondrá ideas aplicables al DF para mejorar diversos medios de transporte, afectando positivamente la calidad de vida de la población.


vera said…
Carlos, I just peeked at the thesis summary, and my question is... isn't the control of self-organizing systems a misnomer? If you control it, then it's not self-organizing. I understand that you are interested in including elements of self-org into controlled systems to make them function better. Should such interventions have a different name?
Carlos said…
Hi Vera,
Indeed, you cannot have a tight control over self-organizing systems. They are like teenagers, with their own goals and behaviors. But you can steer them. Actually the etymology of Cybernetics has this sense.
The idea of the approach is to design/control elements of a system (at a lower scale) so that they self-organize to solve a problem (at a higher scale).
vera said…
I appreciate you writing back! :-) I will think about what you say, and explore further.

Still, though, if you steer the teenager on the sly according to your own values and goals, are they really self-organizing (emphasis on the self part)? Gordon says self-org is a system in which the parts use only local info and the whole thing directs itself. Seems to me that a system that is directed by the programmer according to the programmer's goals is... well, not quite self-organization. It uses elements of self-organization to maintain outside control. I am new to this field of study, so please bear with me. I have to call it as I see it! Any further comments would be appreciated.
Carlos said…
Whether you judge a system as self-organizing or not also depends on the scale at which you make the description of the system. For example, if you look at a teenager at the cellular level, then it makes sense to speak about self-organization. If you describe her as a rule-based system, e.g. as a part of a crowd, then it is not so useful to describe her that way.
But anyway, in the sense of controlling (with external goals) a self-organizing system, the idea is to regulate/constrain/promote the behaviors of the components so that by following their own goals, they will reach a desired state. A bit like changing the flow of a river: you change the terrain, not the laws of physics. The river still flows downhill, but you can change the basin.
vera said…
I see. This is not easy stuff.

Another question... how do you tell when it's NOT self-organization? Where do you draw a line and still call it self-org, given some interventions? I am not sure if I am expressing myself clearly.
vera said…
Here is more what I am trying to get at. Meddling with an ant colony does not interfere with the self-organization. They seek to adapt, as though the human meddling were simply changes in the environment. But what if a human morphed into an ant, entered the colony and began to tell the ants how to do stuff? Feed the brood at two o'clock! Anybody who falls off the pheromone trail will be fined! :-)

Well, this colony is no longer self governing (unless they ignore or destroy the human ant).

What do you think?
Carlos said…
Hi Vera,

Indeed, speaking about self-organization can be a bit subjective, or better put, contextual. What I want to say is that you can decide to call the same system self-organizing or not depending on your purposes (and the system, of course).

You can find more about this in
Gershenson, C. and F. Heylighen (2003). When Can we Call a System Self-organizing? In Banzhaf, W, T. Christaller, P. Dittrich, J. T. Kim, and J. Ziegler, Advances in Artificial Life, 7th European Conference, ECAL 2003, Dortmund, Germany, pp. 606-614. LNAI 2801. Springer.

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