Getting closer to the goal by being less capable

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Science Advances  06 Feb 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 2, eaau5902
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau5902


Understanding how systems with many semi-autonomous parts reach a desired target is a key question in biology (e.g., Drosophila larvae seeking food), engineering (e.g., driverless navigation), medicine (e.g., reliable movement for brain-damaged individuals), and socioeconomics (e.g., bottom-up goal-driven human organizations). Centralized systems perform better with better components. Here, we show, by contrast, that a decentralized entity is more efficient at reaching a target when its components are less capable. Our findings reproduce experimental results for a living organism, predict that autonomous vehicles may perform better with simpler components, offer a fresh explanation for why biological evolution jumped from decentralized to centralized design, suggest how efficient movement might be achieved despite damaged centralized function, and provide a formula predicting the optimum capability of a system’s components so that it comes as close as possible to its target or goal.

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