snowWhat is the nature of complex systems? How do seemingly desperate parts  of an organism constitute a greater whole despite their ignorance of its presence? This condition is observed at the cellular level, at the level of interaction between organisms, and in information systems, though through each successive scale the set of criteria and the environment for the development of this nature is changed. The ambiguity is a result of local information, that is, knowledge which is acquired by an individual component or organism through the direct interaction with its immediate environment and those other individuals which inhabit it. In ‘Emergence: the connected lives of ants, cities, brains and software’, Steven Johnson examines systems in an impressive cross section of scales to discuss the notion of local information and its impacts.  He draws parallels between the organizational structures of intelligent systems that are able to self-organize through the processing of local information, and in doing so is able to clearly define the phenomenon of emergence and the importance of scale in understanding it. More is different; ignorance is useful; look for patterns in the signs; pay attention to your neighbors; encourage random encounters. These five critical components of emergence are evidenced by Johnson in the article as they relate to different operating conditions of complex systems. In the ant world, individuals are imprinted with a basic DNA structure, but have no impression of the emergent societal structure, nor are they aware of how to contextualize themselves within it. Without this knowledge, it is crucial for the self-organizing ant to interact with ants whom they have not yet met in order to further optimize their function. Through paying attention to their neighbors and identifying patterns in their environment, ants exhibit the extraordinary ability to change their operating behavior relative to their context. To further this, Johnson identifies the differences in the behaviors of ants from young colonies and those from older colonies, indicating a discrepancy in the wealth of knowledge collected by each, and a reluctance from older colonies towards performing repeat tasks. In the case of cellular biology, the strength of self-organization results from the number of cells present, and how many are performing which function. On a microscopic level inside our bodies, there is at any one given time, thousands of new cells replacing old dead ones. Just as ants use pheromones to communicate with each other and gather local information, cells register salts, sugars, amino acids, and other minerals to determine where to orient themselves, all the while ignorant of the scale the human life cycle. As such, thinking locally and acting locally based on local knowledge produces local results, but creates a global behavior with a far greater longevity. Diversity of function through numbers is also exhibited in cities, where neighborhoods are developed through local interaction, and the streets and sidewalks are the medium in which this exchange occurs. As the basis for self-identification is a comparison to others, an increase in numbers leads to a difference in the function and performance of each individual element, and random encounters can provide new information and insight into the global state of things. Thus, cities possess an ability to cluster information based on a number of criteria such as the input source, frequency and similarity of information, and can adapt through the processing of this information. Interestingly, Johnson draws further parallels between emergence in these complex systems and the logic of SimCity, which suggests what his intentions are in forming these comparisons. Fundamentally, development in the game is based on the input from a single source, implying a top-down approach to the structure of that organism which would be in contrast to the essentials of swarm logic. However, SimCity is a game which is played, and never won. The product is the result of thousands of local relationships between adjacent cells; an organizational structure which is based on responding to neighbors and remaining useful in an ignorance of the global order. When considered this way, the logic of emergent intelligence still stands, but the removal of scalar differences clarifies it as a definition and a pattern of information processing. Johnson has identified emergence as a nature of complex systems, but has merely provided  definition to a process which already occurs rather than imply future action. In fact, the suggestion that an awareness of emergence as a presence in complex systems should imply action is contradictory to the notion of useful ignorance, which he identifies as a fundamental constituent of ‘bottom-up’ emergent intelligence. Once an individual within swarm logic becomes sentient, it has jumped scale and is no longer making contributions to the local. To say that one should ‘learn’ through an understanding of swarm logic is not necessarily correct, but his article introduces a number of questions about the development of our socio-economic structures. So emergent intelligence is a thing… now what?