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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ants vs Humans (3)

In part 2 of my ants vs humans blog, I mentioned that ant colonies may have a maximum size. A friend then told me that ant colonies sometimes occupy an area of 2 kilometers. However, that information is outdated. Wiki: "In 2009, it was demonstrated that the largest Japanese, Californian and European Argentine ant supercolonies were in fact part of a single global 'megacolony'."

Ants seem to mirror below the ground what humans do above the ground. The global ant population (10 billion) is also within a similar range as humans (7 billion). Only bacteria are far, far ahead of both while cattle is far below (c. 1.4 billion). Source: NPR

Until 21 April 2017, there was one exception though: urbanisation. In 2014, the UN published a report on World Urbanisation Prospects (PDF). Key fact: "Globally, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas, with 54 per cent of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014. In 1950, 30 per cent of the world’s population was urban, and by 2050, 66 per cent of the world’s population is projected to be urban." Also see FT 26 May 2015.

On 21 April 2017, news media report that Beijing will cap its population at 23m “long-term residents” by 2020 “and keep it at that level” in order to combat “urban diseases” (eg, CGTNFT). The FT claims that "instead it is likely to wreak havoc on small businesses and target migrants". It's the 1st time I notice that a megacity is considering the risks of urbanisation.

From a risk management perspective, the Chinese decision makes perfect sense. Large populations on a small area have always run into health risks: Black Death in Europe (1346-1353), great plague of London (1665)great fire of London (1666). Today's health risks in big cities are less visible: see my 23 May 2016 blog on the mental health risks of urbanisation.

During my research, I stumbled on an unexpected related topic: ant colony optimisation (ACO) and ACO algorithms (eg, 2005 study, 2009 Artificial Intelligence seminar, publicationsWiki, Wolfram). This field only exists since the 1992 PhD thesis by Marco Dorigo. It seems that organisation skills by ants arevahead of humans and that we are finally catching up.

Human behaviour is primarily driven by efficiency and effectiveness: how to achieve a goal by using minimum efforts (ie, money, space, time). From a business perspective, this makes sense as it boosts (short term) profits. From an auditor's perspective, such decisions often conflict with the minimum requirements for an effective administrative organisation and internal control.

In more general terms, this is an eternal conflict between the main dimensions of human actions: cost, quality and speed (eg, devil's triangleproject management). It's highly unlikely that ants apply IFRS accounting or have any political beliefs, like capitalism or communism. Hence, quality and speed must be their guiding principles and resources (eg, food) their main constraint.

 Stand and Deliver (1981) by Adam & The Ants - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2