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Chaos Theory

So, I'm back after a blustery, rain swept but fun couple of weeks. Whilst I was away, I happened to read a great little story that featured in this article about why some complex systems perform better without human intervention:

"Back in 1992, General Motors were having trouble managing the automated painting of trucks at an assembly plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Machines in 10 different paint booths could paint trucks as they came off the line, but because the trucks came off in an unpredictable order and the painting machines needed sporadic maintenance and repair, finding an efficient assignment of trucks to booths seemed impossible.

General Motors' visionary engineer Dick Morley suggested letting the painting machines find a schedule themselves. He set out some simple rules by which the various machines would 'bid' for newly available paint jobs, trying their best to stay busy while taking account of the need for maintenance and so on. The results were remarkable, if a little wierd. The system saved General Motors $1million each year in paint alone. Yet the line ran to a schedule that no-one could predict, made up on the fly by the machines themselves as they responded to emerging needs."

Even with the great leveller, the great self-organiser that is the internet, we tend toward a desire for hierarchy, regulation, rules, control. But whilst the behaviour of individuals may be more predictable, the collective patterns that arise from it are often not. Sometimes it's just better to let complex systems find their own solutions.

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