Stigmergy is a term used in biology (from the work of french biologist Pierre-Paul Grasse) to describe environmental mechanisms for coordinating the work of independent actors (for example, ants use pheromones to create trails and people use weblog links to establish information paths, for others to follow). The term is derived from the greek words stigma ("sign") and ergon ("to act"). Stigmergy can be used as a mechanism to understand underlying patterns in swarming activity. As such, it can be applied to the understanding of swarming attacks by diverse bands of global guerrilla. The stigmergic information system that operates in Iraq is the bazaar of violence. A knowledge of stigmergy is a key to understanding how these groups learn.
Stigmergic systems use simple environmental signals to coordinate that actions of independent agents (each with their own decision making process). These signals are used to coordinate scalable, robust, and dynamic activity. This activity is often much more intelligent that the actions capable by the individual actors (in this case individual global guerrilla groups). There are four basic mechanisms of environmental coordination. They are:
- Marker-based. Markers or signs left by actors influence the action of other actors. In the GG (global guerrilla) context this is the site of an attack and the news of the attack that is delivered by the media. The description of the attack in the media is stigmergic marker for others to follow.
- Sematectonic. Environmental conditions influence the behavior of all actors in the system. For GGs, multiple attacks on a certain type of target can generate a security response by the nation-state that changes the potential of attacks against that type of target in the immediate future. An increased security presence for those types of targets is a sematectonic signal to select something else.
- Quantitative. The environmental signals are of a single scalable type. The size of a Global Guerrilla attack on a given location can meter the scale of the security response.
- Qualitative. The environmental signals are of a varied type that change the message based on their combination. Different types of attacks on the same target (the length of power outages in Baghdad) will yield information on the type of attack that is the most effective.
A deeper understanding of the stigmergic signaling between global guerrillas will enable the development of ways to disrupt their activity. The examples listed above are by no means exhaustive (I will include a longer list in my book on Global Guerrillas).