Kaveh Moravej

Biological Efficiency

The human body is undoubtedly one of the most efficient information coordination, retrieval, processing and feedback mechanisms known to man. We still have much to learn regarding its functions, but from what we have discovered so far it continues to astound us.

The human organism, as with many other organisms, requires a diverse number of exteroceptive (external) and proprioceptive (internal) inputs in order to appropriately respond to its environment. Take any one of these away and its performance is left negatively affected. Through homeostasis, disturbances that upset this self regulating system are rapidly addressed in order to ensure stability and survival. In addition, while the brain may seem the central decision maker in this system, it is heavily influenced by internal and external inputs, in a way that ensures it does not act entirely independently of these messages.

The human body's efficiency is further highlighted by the body schema - a system of sensory-motor capacities that function without awareness or the necessity of perceptual monitoring. This allows conscious cognitive energy to be utilised for other matters, thereby reducing overall cognitive load.

While trillions of cells are independently grouped (cell types), through chemical and electrical signals they effectively remain in communication and immediately responsive to one another. Even basic kinesthetic functions such as lifting an arm leads to an immediate and diverse number of sub-conscious adjustments in the rest of the body to ensure that balance is maintained. With its rapid response and complex communication abilities, it is a model of evolutionary efficiency.

Is it possible then for us to emulate this structure elsewhere? Imagine an organisation with the management abilities of the human body, efficiently and rapidly acquiring information internally and externally while appropriately responding with barely perceivable delay. This would be particularly appropriate given that organisations have in the past been described as organisms, with a life of their own and a tendency to grow and/or decay.

While such analogical approaches may not be appropriate in every case, it would certainly serve as inspiration for developing models that challenge inefficient conventional methods of organisational thinking where the biological model of responsive efficiency rapidly breaks down. Obsolete centralised decision making and communication structures are a large part of the problem. This leads to information and knowledge that is ineffectively distributed (if at all).

In the words of mathematician Steven Strogatz "We?re accustomed to thinking in terms of centralized control, clear chains of command, the straightforward logic of cause and effect. But in huge, interconnected systems, where every player ultimately affects every other, our standard ways of thinking fall apart."

Rather than addressing these issues, information technology is in many instances being used in a way that exacerbates these problems, leading to organisational sensory overload. In order to better implement improved information and knowledge exchange systems that replicate biological efficiency it is vital that developers better understand the conceptual requirements of successful bio-management systems. Getting the structure of the system right is essential, as structure will always affect function and shape the dynamics of the system.

The world of knowledge, information and data management has much to gain by studying biological processes and incorporating these into their structure. In particular, the mainstream of academia with its tendency toward narrow specialization and its emphasis on reductionism, drilling down to smaller and smaller units of inquiry will have to break away from this traditional approach. In order to achieve further groundbreaking developments within the sciences and arts, we must continue to bring down the barriers that separate disciplines and encourage diverse inter-disciplinary approaches to problems.