Re: Q: Ant colonies and capitalism?

From: Wei Dai (
Date: Thu Jan 11 2001 - 05:49:30 MST

On Mon, Jan 08, 2001 at 12:35:06AM -0500, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> Eugene, do you know if anyone's ever found capitalistic algorithms
> operating inside the apparent communism of an ant colony? I wanted to
> make some point about "If selfishness is so efficient, why hasn't it
> evolved in ant colonies", and then I realized that for all I knew, it
> had.

I'm not sure in what context you wanted to make that point, but generally
selfishness by itself isn't very efficient. It's only efficient when
combined with reasonably competitive markets (not to mention other
capitalist institutions like property rights and enforceable contracts).
But for markets to exist you need agents who can plan and negotiate with
each other and so on. It's hard to see how an ant colony can take
advantage of "capitalistic algorithms" when it doesn't have the necessary
hardware to run them.

To make the question more interesting you have to ask: if ants were
intelligent, would individual ants exhibit selfish behavior? I would guess
no. Even with selfish participants, command economies (like those within
corporations) can get fairly large before they become inefficient and have
to resort to markets. Probably in an organization as small as an ant
colony, and without the constraint of selfishness, having markets would
not increase efficiency. Without markets, it's hard to see what purpose
selfishness could serve.

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