Roundup: Hybrid Talks XXXI »Swarm«

If you entered the building of the University of Arts last Saturday, you immediately knew, why the topic of swarms was so fitting for the context of UdK’s anually held "Rundgang". Groups of people navigating trough the rooms, stairs and gardenspaces filled the building with the dynamics (and noise) of swarms. If you made it to the third floor, where architecture has its studios, you would have stumbled across our 31st edition of the Hybrid Talks, hosted this time within the spaces of Cafe Mittelachse.

With the topic of swarms, pictures of fish and the name Frank Schätzing come to mind - one tends to think of swarm as an observable, intelligent pattern of behavior, that can easily be made into something eerie, as Schätzings book demonstrates. Our speakers for this evening come from the realms of science and journalism and are throughout more fascinated than alarmed by this strangely familiar form of intelligence. If we are usually inclined to define intelligence with reference to a realm of thought or at least some individual cognitive capacity, the model of intelligent behavior within large swarms offers a vision of intelligence that hinges on the coordination of material relations.

An attempt at a definition of swarms from a systems-theoretical perspective is made by Prof. Dr. Christian Blümelhuber, who opens the series of short talks. In order to approach the form of swarms, he takes the detour from the outside, from the "Not-Swarm". As an expert of state theory, Blümelhubers intention is, to make plausible the form of swarm as a mode of social being. It is a specific form, that was popularized recently by digital technologies and the option of broad communication, and that promotes an idea of a togetherness based simply upon „projects“ or a common intention. Here, Blümelhuber offers critical thoughts regarding possible problems of a society, structured in the form of a swarm.

Link to Audio

Dr. Daniel Graff is up next and he speaks from a firmly technical perspective. With regard to Prof. Blümelhubers talks, one could say, Graff offers technical details for structuring the swarm-society of working robots. An interesting thought hereby is the virtualization of resources within this structuring. The organization of a swarm of workers, so it seems, offers the possibility to separate tasks from resources in order have a middle-layer operating system, that plans out the most perfect way, in which tasks are to be fulfilled. Graffs robots are small and cute, they are only models to simulate bigger situations. One can imagine the scale, at which such programming can be useful and in which the virtualization of material resources, of swarms of workers can be lucrative for the task of optimal organization.

Link to Audio

Prof. Dr. Jens Krause now presents the version of a swarm probably the bigger part of the audience has been waiting for: he is an expert in biology an ecology and specializes in the field of behavioral swarm dynamics. Furthermore, he does not shy away from experiments with human animals and their capacities to behave in a determined manner. Applying his findings in experiments with fish, he conducted experiments, or rather, games, with large groups of people. An unexpectedly evident behavioral pattern of group dynamics could be observed, that can be treated and conditioned in the same way as groups of fish. These findings could prove useful in the future for dangerous situations, where group dynamics get out of hand.

Link to Audio

From a behavioral perspective, actors seem to merge into the group and disappear as self-conscious beings. This is useful for researching the large dynamics, that do not have a center of intentional activity any more. But this is of course not the whole picture - Dr. Sabine Huschka from the Hochschulzentrum für Tanz (HZT) poses the question, weather swarm dynamics really are a kind of natural law or if there is an artistic component to the phenomenon. In other words, weather a swarm can be described as the synchronization of similarly competent performers within a feeling of flow. To expose this, Huschka shows several beautiful examples of large dance-performances, where a sort of flow seems to be established as nonverbal communication between the performers. It may be far fetched, but there is a link here to what Blümelhuber described as the digital society: swarms seem to hinge upon the possibility of communication between the elements. This communication is observable in dance in an immediate way.

Link to Audio

At last, we enter the realm of journalism with a presentation by Jonathan Sachse, an investigative journalist who works with "Correctiv". He introduces a recent and still ongoing project in Hamburg, which tries to expose problems within the real estate market of the city. For their research work they used a strategy they called „crowd newsroom“, which can be described as a basis-democratic way of doing research. People of Hamburg were made aware of this project and were asked to participate by telling their stories of bad cunduct by landlords, as well as to identify said landlords personally. While Sachse presented the concrete strategies used in order to motivate "the masses" for this participative project, one was reminded of Prof. Krauses strategies within the deterministic dynamics of large crowds: different impulses in a common direction of movement need to be given in order for a swarm to slowly adopt the intention. Sachse talked about different public presentations, artistic interventions and workshops that all aimed at getting the crowd behind the common interest.

Link to Audio

We want to thank all the speakers for a thought-provoking evening in front of an interested audience of the UdK Rundgang. Furthermore we thank Cafe Mittelachse for hosting this event within their space.

- Benedikt