International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.



The capacity of a number of interacting simple elements to developed coordinated group behavior.

L. STEELS (Brussels Free University) explores "swarm intelligence", i.e. coherent emergent collective behavior in groups of artificial and individually autonomous agents. Using BROOKS' subsumption architecture as a tool for functional self-organization, he defines a kind of robots ecology (1990).

The methodology used is akin to collaborative communication, based on pheromones, in social insects. Each participant needs only reduced perception and decision capacities: global organization appears spontaneously through communication.

The terms "swarm intelligence" were introduced by DENEUBOURG et al (1992). It related however in this context to "the simulation of the termites nest-building behavior on a computer by applying a very simple "stigmergic algorithm".

J. HOFFMEYER criticized this view: "I am not going to defend the view that the collective behavior of termites deserves to be called intelligence"(1995, p. 20). while this is semantically commendable, it seems to miss the point. Hoffmeyer himself describes the process as "distributed problem solving"(Ibid). As such, swarm intelligence, being it in insect societies, robots… or of course human societies is basically a communication process in which the individuals take part each in accordance with its perceptive possibilities, and decision and action ones. They could be considered as a discontinuous collective boundary between the swarm (or system) and its environment.

Swarm intelligence is now modelized by groups of robots whose individual cognitive abilities are very limited, but who may become able to execute complex tasks by interacting in accordance to some rules. (A. MARTINOLI et al., p. 56-62, 2002)

Moreover, these interactions are triggered by specific events in the environment.

The main concepts of swarm intelligence have been derived from the observation of social insects (ants, bees) and fish schools. Two basic conditions seem to be indispensable.

1) The existence of a perception capacity for some well specific conditions, forms, or activities in the environment

2) The existence of a specific mode of communication as for ex. pheromones or electromagnetic signals

Human societies have evolved high level swarm intelligence through very differentiated and precise capacities of perception and communication systems (a variety of coded natural or technical languages). Moreover, all such processes depend on learning and transmission through time or registered results (i.e. some form of memory)

Algorithm; Algorithm (Back-propagation); Bottom up; Cybernetics (2); Dictyostelium discoideum; Herd effects; Intelligence (Distributed artificial); Parallel distributed processing; Pheromone; School; Shoal; Sociality; Somatic Ecology; Stigmergy


  • 1) General information
  • 2) Methodology or model
  • 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
  • 4) Human sciences
  • 5) Discipline oriented


Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

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Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

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