Knowledge Management, Bacteria Style

Some weeks back I wrote over at the Cognitive Edge guest blog that “single-celled organisms … are very much independent players”. This riveting TED talk by Bonnie Bassler about how bacteria communicate with each other and coordinate their actions for large scale (social) impact has forced a rethink on that.

In fact, lurking unspoken behind Bonnie’s talk is the implication that far from being the apex of creation, humankind (among other multi-celled organisms) are merely the product of a billion year experiment by bacteria to maximise their access to nutrients and growth – an intriguing twist on an old Douglas Adams joke about mice and men. We are bacteria’s infrastructure, painfully evolved by them, just as cities and trade routes form our infrastructure. Even human intentionality can be read as a bacterial strategy. Take the the obvious counter claim that humans have revolted Frankenstein-like against their bacterial creators with the invention of antibiotics. On the bacterial plane, this can simply be read as just one strategy for bacteria who like their infrastructure alive to win out over the bacteria that like it dead. If you have billions of years to play with, it makes sense to develop infrastructure smart enough to protect itself against your competitors.

What Bonnie does suggest is that bacteria set the basic rules for how more complex organisms communicate and coordinate internally. The question now bugging me (pun intentional) is whether these basic rules also apply to social organisms – ie communities and organisations. This chimes with something Pierpaolo Andriani wrote over a year ago, also on the Cognitive Edge guest blog: “as we can not rule out that both technological and biological evolution follow common dynamical patterns, we can at least risk and apply learning from bio evolution to tech evolution and see what we can learn from it.”

Perhaps bacteria can teach us more about knowledge management than we would expect.

0 Comment so far

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.

Comment Guidelines: Basic XHTML is allowed (<strong>, <em>, <a>) Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically generated. URLs are automatically converted into links.