New World, New Ways…

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Rewind: Sixteen years or so ago, I was interested in how we use software to help us solve the compound, iterative and ever-changing problems we face every day: juggling complex trip schedules, working out where we need to be and when to co-ordinate with our friends or colleagues and, of course, how we find out about stuff that we’d want if only we knew to ask for it. I’m still thinking about it.

Play: I had a bit of an idea: I took the biomimetic approach and asked, “What if each functional part of a system could behave like an organism in an ecosystem – focussing only on its own niche and not requiring any a priori knowledge of any other?” – the Dung Beetle after all, doesn’t know about the habits of Wildebeeste – it only knows that if it hangs around a particular area there’s likely to be regular supplies of fine dung and that it can thereby get on with its life. And of course an ecosystem is a dynamic thing, with its denizens collaborating and competing at need to gain competitive advantage. Which of course creates selective pressure for the continuous evolution of each species and the ecosystem as a whole. I presented a thought paper at the Digital Biota II conference in 1998 and then set it aside, having – like any good Magrathean – decided that the entry-level costs of the requisite infrastructure were just too high but believing that, at some point, it would all be possible. 

Fast Forward: That was then and this is now: we have new models for software development, we have the Cloud and at last, we have the first fruits of the then and the now: the beta of udu is coming. Naturally, it’s very early days yet but huge kudos, particularly to Rett Crocker and his tech team for getting it this far – I look forward to each new step. Is that the march of a million little Dung Beetle feet I hear?

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