On Self-Organising Mechanisms from Social, Business and Economic Domains
Salima HassasLIRIS-CNRS, University of Lyon, FranceE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org://www710.univ-lyon1.fr/~hassas
Giovanna Di Marzo-SerugendoUniversity of Geneva, SwitzerlandE-mail: Giovanna.Dimarzo@cui.unige.chhttp://cui.unige.ch/~dimarzo/
Anthony KarageorgosUniversity of Thessaly, GreeceE-mail: email@example.com://inf-server.inf.uth.gr/~karageorgos/
Cristiano CastelfranchiUnit of AI, Cognitive Modelling and Interaction, CNR, ItalyE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org://www.istc.cnr.it/
Keywords: self-organisation, networks, social functions, business networks, social learning
This paper discusses examples of socially inspired self-organisation approaches and their use to buildsocially-aware, self-organising computing systems. The paper presents different mechanisms originatingfrom existing social systems, such as stigmergy from social insects behaviours, epidemic spreading, gos-siping, trust and reputation inspired by human social behaviours, as well as other approaches from socialscience related to business and economics. It also elaborates on issues related to social network dynamics,social network patterns, social networks analysis, and their relation to the process of self-organisation. Theapplicability of socially inspired approaches in the engineering of self-organising computing systems isthen illustrated with applications concerning WWW, computer networks and business communities.
Povzetek: Podani so primeri mehanizmov samoorganizacije.
uncertain and dynamic environments. They can providea great inspiration for busiding self-organising computingsystems.
Nowadays computing systems are open systems evolvingin a dynamic complex environment. They are designed as
Socially inspired computing gathers computing tech-
sets of interacting components, highly distributed both con-
niques that make use of metaphors inspired by social be-
ceptually and physically. The growing complexity of these
haviours, exhibiting self-organisation, self-adaptation and
systems and their large scale distribution make the use of
self-maintainance of the society organisation. These so-
traditional approaches based on hierarchical functional de-
cial behaviours range from those observed in biological
composition and centralised control no more applicable.
entities such as bacteria, cells and social insects to an-
Increasingly, a real need for new paradigms, mechanisms
imals and human societies. One important characteris-
and techniques allowing endowing these systems with the
tic of these societies is their emergence as patterns de-
capacity to autonomously manage their functioning and
veloped from relatively simple interactions in a network
evolution, is expressed. Existing social systems, for exam-
of individuals. These patterns, are supposed to be driven
ple large scale, decentralised and autonomic human, insect
by self-organising processes that are governed by sim-
or business and economic systems, are well known to ex-
ple but generic laws . This paper is focused on
hibit interesting characteristics, such as robustness, capac-
self-organising mechanisms observed in natural social sys-
ity of self-management and self-adaptation, survivability in
tems and in business and economic ones, and the illus-
tration of their use for building self-organising computing
cial emergence: 1. the emergent phenomenon is perceived
systems. We distinguish natural systems from business
by an observer, but has no effect on the society; 2. the
and economic systems, since generic laws guiding self-
emergent phenomenon has an effect on the society by self-
organisation in the first kind of systems is dictated by na-
reproducing and enforcing the social phenomenon.
ture whereas in the others, self-organisation is governed by
Given the considerations above, Castelfranchi considers
that "in order to have a function, a behaviour or trait or
From a natural systems perspective, species survival is
entity must be replicated and shaped by its effects".
the ultimate goal. This goal is not expressed explicitly
The principal argument is that "the invisible hand" is not
at the individual level, but seems to guide the collective
necessarily a good thing for society (especially in the case
behaviour towards the emergence of social functions and
of self-interested agents). The optimum order for the so-
dynamics allowing the maintainance of the system organ-
ciety can actually be bad for individuals or for everybody.
isation. In business and economic systems, individual be-
For instance, prisons generate criminals that in turn feed
haviours are goal-oriented and their primary goal is to in-
prisons. This is a function not a social objective.
crease their profit. In this case, the system’s dynamics is
The important thing is that "re-organisation simply
handled by the activity developed to face business and eco-
maintains the system, but not necessariy the optimal
nomic constraints to reach a global equilibrium through
which the system can survive. In both systems, one im-portant issue is their capacity to globally maintain a suffi-ciently good level of information allowing them to deploy
the effective global behaviour that permits the realisation
of their intentional or non intentional goals.
In the following, we first present examples of socially in-
spired self-organising mechanisms in natural business and
Propagation of information or knowledge allowing social
economic systems. Before concluding, we present exam-
activities in social systems lays on the social network
ple applications of such mechanisms in WWW, computer
formed by the the interaction held between the society in-
dividual components during social activities. Social be-haviour both shapes and is shaped by such social networks.
2.2.1 Social Learning and Propagation of Knowledge
In social science, it is now established that social interac-
tions play a fundamental role in learning dynamics, andlead to cognitive development. This phenomenon is known
Human collective behaviour occurs without central con-
as "Zone of Proximal Development" which Vygotsky de-
trol, and through self-organisation. In this case, intimately
scribes it as "the distance between the actual development
linked with the notion of self-organisation is the notion of
level as determined by independent problem solving and"emergence" in the sense that "social functions" arise out
the level of potential development as determined through
from (self-interested) human collective behaviour. In so-
problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration
cial sciences different interpretations of the notion of social
with more capable peers"  . The effect of social-
functions have been expressed, essentially considering that
isation has also been proven to benefit to the propagation
even if social functions are not intentional and possibly un-
of knowledge inside an interconnected population. In 
known they constitute the ultimate end of the society and
the authors considered social learning in a population of
myopic, memoryless agents. They have made some exper-
The social functions concept has also been explained
iments to study how technology diffuses in a population
as the "invisible hand" which would manage forms of un-
based on individual or collective evaluation of the tech-
planned coordination (like market) in which human interest
nology. The authors have shown that under a learning
increases  through the apparently "spontaneous emer-
rule where an agent changes his technology only if he has
gence of an unintentional social order and institutions". As
had a failure (a bad outcome), the society converges with
pointed out by , the problem with this view is: "how
probability 1 to the better technology. In contrast, when
an unintentional effect can be an end" for the society; and
agents switch on the basis of the neighbourhood averages,
"how is it possible that we pursue something that is not an
convergence occurs if the better technology is sufficiently
intention of ours". An alternative could be avoiding the
better. These experiments show how a better technology
concept of social functions because of the problems and
spreads in a population through a mechanism of imitation
questions that they provoke. However, this is not satisfac-
and thanks to neighbourhood connections. In another work
tory too, because nevertheless social emergence happens
, the authors develop a general framework to study the
and has the form of a goal-oriented process.
relationship between the structure of these neighborhoods
Therefore, it is important to distinguish two kinds of so-
and the process of social learning. They show that, in a
ON SELF-ORGANISING MECHANISMS FROM SOCIAL. . .
connected society, local learning ensures that all agents ob-
of evidence, and allows to adapt the behaviour of princi-
tain the same payoffs in the long run. Thus, if actions have
pals consequently. We report here the results of the Euro-
different payoffs, then all agents choose the same action.
pean funded SECURE  project, which has establishedan operational model for trust-based access control. Sys-
2.2.2 Epidemic Spreading and Gossiping Metaphors
tems considered by the SECURE project are composed ofa set of autonomous components, called principals, able to
As cited in  Gossip is one of the most usual social
take decisions and initiatives, and are meaningful to trust or
activities. This mechanism allows for the aggregation of
distrust. Principals maintain local trust values about other
a global information inside a population, through a peri-
principals. A principal that receives a request for collabora-
odic exchange and update of individual information among
tion from another principal decides to actually interact with
members of a group. The neighbourhood as well as the
that principal or not on the basis of the current trust value
level of precision of the exchanged information play an
it has on that principal for that particular action, and on the
important role on the nature of social learning which oc-
risk it may imply for performing it. If the trust value is too
curs by this way. This mechanism provides a powerful ab-
low, or the associated risk too high, a principal may reject
straction metaphor for information spreading, knowledge
the request. After each interaction, participants update the
exchange and group organisation in large scale distributed
trust value they have in the partner, based on the evaluated
systems. In peer-to-peer (P2P) systems, a class of proto-
outcome (good or bad) of the interaction. A principal may
cols categorised as epidemic protocol has been proposed
also ask or receive recommendations (in the form of trust
. These protocols are characterised by their high ro-
values) about other principals. These recommendations are
bustness and large scalability. This metaphor has been also
evaluated (they depend on the trust in the recommender),
used for routing in sensor networks. For example in , a
and serve for updating current trust values. Artificial sys-
rumour routing algorithm for sensors networks is proposed.
tems built on the human notion trust as exposed above have
This algorithm is based on the idea of creating paths lead-
the particularity to exhibit a self-organising behaviour ,
ing to each event and spreading events in the wide-network
as identified by Nobel prize Ilya Prigogine and his col-
through the creation of an event flooding gradient field. A
leagues . Additional trust and reputation systems are
random walk exploration permits to find event paths when
surveyed in , and for the particular case of multi-agent
Uncertainty and partial knowledge are a key characteris-tic of the natural world. Despite this uncertainty human
beings make choices, take decisions, learn by experience,and adapt their behaviour.
Social insects societies such as ants, bees, wasps and ter-
Trust management systems deal with security policies,
mites exhibit many interesting complex behaviours such as
credentials and trust relationships, for example issuers of
emergent properties from local interactions between ele-
credentials. Most trust-based management systems com-
mentary behaviours achieved individually. The emergent
bine higher-order logic with a proof brought by a requester
collective behaviour is the outcome of a process of self-
that is checked at run-time. These systems are essentially
organisation, in which insects are engaged through their
based on delegation, and serve to authenticate and give
repeated actions and interactions with their evolving en-
access control to a requester . Usually the requester
vironment . Self-organisation in social insects relies
brings the proof that a trusted third entity asserts that it
on an underlying mechanism : Stigmergy, originally in-
is trustable or it can be granted access. These techniques
troduced by Grassé in 1959 . Grassé studied the be-
have been designed for static systems, where an untrusted
haviour of a kind of termites during the construction of
client performs some access control request to some trusted
their nests and noticed that the behavior of workers during
server [1, 6]. Similar systems for open distributed environ-
the construction process is influenced by the structure of
ment have also been realised, for instance  proposes
the constructions themselves. This mechanism is a power-
a delegation logic including negative evidence, and dele-
ful principle of cooperation in insect societies. It has been
gation depth, as well as a proof of compliance for both
observed within many insect societies such as wasps, bees
parties involved in an interaction. The PolicyMaker sys-
and ants. It is based on the use of the environment as a
tem is a decentralised trust management systems  based
medium of inscription of past behaviours effects, to influ-
on proof checking of credentials allowing entities to locally
ence future behaviours. This mechanisms defines what is
decide whether or not to accept credentials (without relying
called auto-catalytic process, that is the more a process oc-
to a centralised certifying authority). Eigentrust  is a
curs, the more it has a chance to occur in the future. More
trust calculation algotrithm that allows to calculate a global
generally, this mechanism shows how simple systems can
emergent reputation from locally maintained trust values.
produce a wide range of more complex coordinated behav-
Recently, more dynamic and adaptive schemas have been
iors, simply by exploiting the influence of the environment.
defined, which allow trust to evolve with time as a result
Many behaviours in social insects, such as foraging or col-
lective sorting are rooted on the stigmergy mechanism.
modelling self-organisation and emergence in economic
Foraging is the collective behaviour through which ants
systems, which is primarily based on analytic general equi-
collect food. During the foraging process, ants leave their
librium models, for example as is done in . The main
nest and explore their environment following a random
problem with analytic approaches is that they cannot rep-
path. When an ant finds a source of food, it carries a piece
resent all possible situations due to the non-linearity of
of food and returns back to the nest by laying a trail of
economic phenomena , which is due to the fact that
a hormone called pheromone along its route. This chem-
economies are complex dynamic systems . Instead,
ical substance persists in the environment for a particular
market-based approaches view macroeconomic phenom-
amount of time before it evaporates. When other ants en-
ena as emergent results of local interactions of the eco-
counter a trail of pheromone, while exploring their environ-
nomic entities [10, 33, 48]. An example is economic
ment, they are influenced to follow the trail until the food
growth which can be described at the macro level but it
source, and while coming back to the nest they enforce the
can never be explained at that level . The reason is that
initial trail by depositing additional amounts of pheromone.
economic growth results from the interaction of a variety
The more the trail is followed, the more it is enforced and
of economic actors, who create and use technology, and
has a chance to followed by other ants in the future. Ants
foraging behaviour have inspired many works in comput-
There are numerous variations of market-based self-
ing domains, ranging from "Ant Colony Optimisation" (ACO)
organisation mechanisms. An exemplar such mechanism
metaheuristic for optimisation problems , to the de-
which is based on the creative destruction principle is de-
sign of ant-like systems using mobile agents with applica-
tions in several domains such as computers network routingand load-balancing , computers network secu-rity , information sharing in peer to peer systems
Creative destruction is a term coined by Schumpeter 
Collective clustering and sorting is a collective be-
to denote a "process of industrial mutation that incessantly
haviour through which some social insects sort eggs, lar-
revolutionizes the economic structure from within, inces-
vae and cocoons. As mentioned in , an ordering phe-
santly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new
nomenon is observed in some species of ants when bodies
one." In other words, creative destruction occurs when a
are collected and later dropped in some area. The proba-
new setting eliminates an old one leading to economic de-
bility of picking up an item is correlated with the density
velopment. According to this view an economic system
of items in the region where the operation occurs. This be-
must destroy less efficient firms in order to make room
haviour has been studied in robotics through simulations
for new, possibly more efficient entrants. A representa-
and real implementations . Robots with primitive be-
tive example of creative destruction is the evolution of per-
haviour are able to achieve a spatial environment structur-
sonal computer industry which under the lead of Microsoft
ing by forming clusters of similar objects via the mecha-
and Intel destroyed many mainframe computer companies;
nism of stigmergy described above. Moreover, these kind
however, at the same time one of the most important tech-
of social insect behaviours have inspired many mechanisms
nological achievements of this century was created.
for building artificial self-organised systems  
The main roles that economic actors play in a market-
based economy are those of producer, worker and con-sumer. Producers produce goods or provide services that
consumers demand. Consumers consume the goods anduse the services in exchange of some monetary or utility
value. When there is high demand producers tend to hireworkers to assist them in goods production or service pro-
vision in exchange of some wage. Since producers cannotsell their production beforehand, they must hold enough
Market-based mechanisms are built along the lines of eco-
money to pay the workers in order to start up production
nomic markets. In this approach, systems are modelled
and they can only get the necessary money by entering
along the lines of some economic model in which partic-
debt. According to the creative destruction principle, if
ipating entities act towards increasing their personal profit
producers are not able to pay the worker wages then they
or utility. System wide parameters are modelled in a man-
go bankrupt and they are removed from the system, for ex-
ner similar to macroeconomic variables such as economic
ample they are reduced to simple workers, opening the way
growth. The parameters of the individual entities corre-
to other economic entities to try to become successful pro-
spond to microeconomic parameters. The key point in such
ducers and satisfy the consumer demand.
systems is to select suitable micro level parameter values
The creative destruction process is better illustrated in a
and market interaction rules so that desired system goals,
credit economy. In contrast to a monetary economy where
both local and global, are achieved.
producers can only borrow existing money from lenders,
Market-based approaches contrast the traditional way of
credit economy allows producers to obtain credit up to a
ON SELF-ORGANISING MECHANISMS FROM SOCIAL. . .
certain level from creditors in order to pay for production
A shift towards to personalised marketing models is
of new products. In this way, producers can more easily
viewed as being driven by syndication . Syndication
force their way into the market but the danger of becom-
involves the sale of the same good to many customers, who
ing bankrupt is increased. To explain economic develop-
then integrate it with other offerings and redistribute it, as
ment in this framework one only needs to explain why en-
is the case in redistributing popular TV programs. An ex-
trepreneurs would want to introduce new products to the
ample of a company using syndication is FedEx which syn-
market. Effective entrepreneurs survive the battle and in-
dicates its tracking system in several ways . The com-
crease their profit. Failed entrepreneurs cannot repay their
pany allows customers to access computer systems via its
debt and therefore they go bankrupt and they are elimi-
Web site and monitor the status of their packages. For cor-
nated. As initially stated by Schumpeter  and later eval-
porate customers FedEx provide software tools that enable
uated experimentally, for example , economic growth in
the organisation to automate shipping and track packages
this model is generated in cycles that emerge from the dis-
using their own computing resource. Each customer is of-
turbance caused by entrepreneurs entering the market in-
fered different prices depending on a variety of parameters.
Many websites, such as eBay, also apply variable pricing
In such a model there is particular interest from both
the global, macro economic perspective and the local mi-croeconomic one.
their entrepreneur policy so that to increase their profit
and avoid the risk of getting bankrupt. On the other hand
Another example from the area of management is the the-
the economic system regulators can decide on the self-
ory of activity described in . In this view a company
organisation rules so that to increase overall system pro-
consists of networks of working groups that can change
their structure, links and behaviour in response to businessrequirements. The aim is to capture the self-organisation
decisions that need to be taken during the business oper-ations both by managers and by interactions between em-
Business related mechanisms are based on business models
ployees. The emphasis is on solving potential conflicts of
and theories which use self-organisation. In an increasingly
interests in both the inner and the external co-operative ac-
complex global economy, businesses are faced with unpre-
dictable behaviours and fast pace of change. As a result,
In this approach the structure of the company is virtual.
the emphasis in contemporary business models has shifted
There is no clear hierarchy and control; instead control ef-
from efficiency to flexibility and the speed of adaptation.
fects can be initiated both vertically and horizontally via
More recent approaches, for example the one described
"round table meetings", which are organised along the lines
in , increasingly introduce business models originat-
of assessment meetings normally held in companies to as-
ing from the study of complex adaptive systems. Adap-
sess results and handle exceptions. In these virtual round
tive business organisations are guided and tied together by
tables suitable participants soon emerge as de facto leaders
ideas, by their knowledge of themselves, and by what they
due to their knowledge and experience. Subsequently, lead-
do and can accomplish. Therefore, the focus in such mod-
ers tend to participate in each newly formed "round table".
els is on the complex relationships between different busi-
The view expressed in  is that to model the interactions
ness components and the effects that a change into some
of participants in a "round table", it is necessary to simulate
part of the system or its environment, however distant,
the whole activity of each of them including their reasoning
might have on the behaviour of the entire system.
As examples of self-organising business models we dis-
cuss personalised marketing and activity-based manage-ment.
Personalised marketing refers to following a personalised
market strategy for each individual customer which is
evolving according to customer reactions . A typicalexample of this approach is the one-to-one variable pric-
Based on the SECURE trust and risk security framework,
ing model , which refers to providing an individual
an anti-spam tool has been developed which allows
offer to each customer using Internet technologies. The
collaboration among e-mail users by exchanging recom-
model uses self-organisation in the marketing policies by
mendations about e-mail’s senders.
changing customers targeted and the prices quoted based
scheme has been combined to the SECURE framework in
on market dynamics, customer characteristics and the busi-
order to increase the level of sender authentication .
On the WWW, a plethora of systems have been devel-
5.3 Applications in Business and Economics
oped for content retrieval, filtering or organisation using
socially inspired computing. As an illustration, we presenthere a pioneering work , in information retrieval field
Typical applications of market-based self-organisation
which combined inspiration of social human behaviours,
mechanisms can be found in the domains of business com-
and economic markets to propose an interesting system for
munity networks . An example of such approach is
information retrieval on the web. In this work, documents
the self-organising semantic network of document index-
are represented by keyword vectors, representing individ-
uals (agents) of an artificial ecosystem. This population
In such a network, agents maintain indices to actual doc-
evolves through an evolutionary process of natural selec-
uments and to other agents as well, treating both in a similar
tion using a genetic algorithm to find documents which
manner - based on the semantics of their content. The key
best fit the user request. The user feedback is used to re-
feature in this approach is content dependent query redirec-
ward (resp. to punish) the fittest individual (the less fitting
tion, based on semantic indexing. If an agent is unable find
individual) by giving it a credit value. These credits are
a document on a given topic, it re-directs the received query
then used by agents in a market based metaphor to esti-
to the agents which believes are most likely to find it. The
mate the cost of inhabiting the artificial ecosystem. The
connections between the agents adapt themselves based on
fittest agents have enough credits to continue living in the
the history of successfully served queries, forming a dis-
ecosystem and the less fitting agents will die. Another sys-
tributed self-organising search engine which is capable of
tem called WACO has been proposed in . The WACO
executing on heterogeneous servers over the internet and
system is composed of a population of agents deployed on
dynamically indexing all available documents. The impor-
the web to form clusters of semantically similar documents
tant aspect of such a search engine is that each node, though
and dynamically organise the web content. These agent be-
possessing only limited amount of local information, can
haviours, take inspiration of social insect behaviours. They
combine foraging ant behaviour and the collective sorting
Each piece of information received from an agent cor-
rects the coordinates of its representation in the semanticindex of the recipient. Furthermore, each link to an agenthas also its own utility based rating. Those ratings areused for the selction of the right candidates for redirecting
Rating adaptation is done using a free market approach.
T-Man is a generic protocol based on a gossip communi-
According to this approach agents provide chargeable
cation model and serves to solve the topology management
search services to each other. Each query has some lim-
problem . Each node of the network maintains its local
ited amount of network currency, termed neuro, which dis-
(logical) view of neighbours. A ranking function (e.g. a
sipates in the course of query processing in the network.
distance function between nodes) serves to reorganise the
Neuros circulating through the network are used by the
set of neighbours (e.g. increasing distance). Through lo-
agents to update their connections with the other agents,
cal gossip messages, neighbour nodes exchange or com-
based on their utility, in a similar manner that money flow
bine their respective views. Gradually, in a bottom-up
in a real economy determines the structure of business re-
way, through gossiping and ranking, nodes adapt their list
of neighbours, and consequently change and re-organise
The semantic network economy is based on the follow-
the network topology. The T-Man protocol is particularly
suited for building robust overlay networks supporting P2Psystems, especially in the presence of a high proportion of
– The cost of each delegated query processing is one
nodes joining and leaving the network.
The SLAC (Selfish Link and behaviour Adaptation
– The cost of each document (query) transaction is one
to produce Cooperation) algorithm  favours self-
organisation of P2P network’s nodes into tribes (i.e. intospecialised groups of nodes). The SLAC algorithm is a
– Agents aim to minimize their expenditures.
selfish re-wiring protocol, where by updating its links with
According to these rules each agent keeps track of the
other nodes in order to increase its utility function, a spe-
balance of transactions of all other agents it is linked with.
cific node leaves its current tribe, and joins a new one.
Agents are considered economically rational and aiming to
In addition to P2P systems, the SLAC algorithm has
maximise their profit they tend to delegate queries to ex-
many potential applications, for instance to organise col-
perts in the query topic, thus minimizing effective cost of
laborative spam / virus filtering in which tribes of trusted
peers share meta-information such as virus and spam signa-
Similar market-based techniques are applied in trade net-
tures. This would elimite the need for trusted third parties
works where the aim is to select trade partners based on
continually updated expected payoffs [27, 47].
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Financial Management of Not-for-Profit OrganizationsFinancial management of not-for-profits is similar to financial management in the commercial sector in many respects; however, certain key differences shift the focus of a not-for-profit financial manager. A for-profit enterprise focuses on profitability and maximizing shareholder value. A not-for-profit organization’s primary goal