Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Traffic Patterns and Emergent Behavior

Around twenty years ago my brother was living in Atlanta, Georgia, and while I was down there visiting him I was struck by how people drove differently there.

People drove at about 85 mph on the highways, which was a shock to me, at that time being used to a more calm 55 or 60 mph. Even stranger was how courteous everyone was -- if you needed to switch lanes, you simply put on your turn signal, and without fail, you would be let in.

I was amazed that there seemed to be a set of internalized rules governing people's driving habits, and that this was a localized phenonema.

Years later, I was driving in Chicago on a daily basis, growling at the countless driving a-holes would pass me on the right at a red light. Chicago was no Atlanta.

Well, now I have a label to put on this phenonema -- emergent behavior. Apparently it's all the rage now, what with the INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY and all.

Here's a nice article about emergent behavior and traffic patterns from the Boston Globe:

"THE FIELDS OF computer science and education suffered a blow on Dec. 5, when Seymour Papert, the 78-year-old cofounder of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, was struck by a motorbike in Hanoi. Papert, who had come to Hanoi for a conference on teaching math with computers, remained in a coma as of Friday.

Strangely, shortly before the accident, Papert had been discussing how to build a computer model of Hanoi's notoriously chaotic traffic. He found it an interesting instance of a theme closely associated with his work: "emergent behavior," or the way that large groups of agents following simple rules, with no central leader, can spontaneously create sophisticated systems and activities. Examples include schools of fish, anthills, bee swarms, and, apparently, Vietnamese motorbike drivers."



Joe said...

This is very cool. I'm off to learn more about "emergent behavior"

Cup said...

Damn. Which freaky weekend were you driving in Atlanta? One of the biggest complaints we Atlantans hear is we never use our turn signals (and thus I always use mine). We also have some bad-ass road rage in town. I always make a point to live within 10 miles of my office — at a location that helps me avoid highways at all costs.

Splotchy said...

It was years ago, like in the early-mid 90's.

If it makes a difference, during the same visit to Atlanta, an elderly women *did* insult my brother when he parallel parked too far from the curb.