Designing Algorithms for Controlling Organic Systems: A Journey from Scarcity

Designing Algorithms for Controlling Organic Systems: A Journey from Scarcity


The concept of managing organic systems with software presents a unique and intriguing challenge. Unlike traditional systems, organic systems - such as ecosystems, human social structures, or even certain types of decentralized networks—exhibit complex behaviors and interactions that cannot be fully predicted by linear models. This post explores a novel approach to designing algorithms capable of effectively controlling such systems, focusing on leveraging scarcity as a starting point.

Understanding Scarcity in Organic Systems

Scarcity, a condition where the demand for resources exceeds their availability, is a natural regulator of behavior and growth in organic systems. It influences competition, adaptation, and evolution, driving the system towards a dynamic equilibrium. By starting from a point of scarcity, we can design algorithms that mimic these natural processes, promoting efficient resource utilization and sustainable growth.

Principles for Algorithm Design

Adaptive Resource Allocation

The first principle involves creating algorithms that can adaptively allocate resources based on the current state of scarcity within the system. This requires real-time monitoring and analysis of resource consumption patterns, enabling the algorithm to predict future demands and adjust allocations accordingly. Such adaptability ensures that the system remains resilient in the face of changing conditions, a critical aspect of maintaining security and stability.

For example, consider an algorithm designed to manage water distribution in an agricultural ecosystem facing drought conditions. By continuously monitoring soil moisture levels, plant health indicators, and weather forecasts, the algorithm can optimize water allocation, prioritizing areas with the greatest need and potential for growth, thus ensuring the sustainability of the ecosystem under scarce conditions.

Feedback Loops and System Dynamics

Incorporating feedback loops into the algorithm allows for the modulation of system behavior based on outcomes. This principle is inspired by natural feedback mechanisms that maintain homeostasis in biological systems. By analyzing the effects of previous actions, the algorithm can fine-tune its strategies to achieve desired outcomes more effectively.

A practical application could be seen in managing traffic flow in urban areas. An algorithm that adjusts traffic signal timings based on real-time traffic conditions and historical data can alleviate congestion, reducing the scarcity of road space during peak times. This dynamic adjustment creates a more efficient and responsive transportation system.

Evolutionary Optimization

Leveraging concepts from evolutionary biology, such as mutation, selection, and inheritance, algorithms can be designed to evolve over time, continuously improving their performance in controlling the system. This principle is particularly useful in scenarios where the system is highly dynamic and the optimal control strategies are not known a priori.

For instance, an algorithm controlling a decentralized peer-to-peer network might use evolutionary optimization to improve its data routing efficiency. By experimenting with different routing strategies and selecting the most effective ones based on performance metrics, the algorithm can adapt to changing network conditions and usage patterns, ensuring optimal performance despite the scarcity of bandwidth.

Implementing the Algorithm: A Step-by-Step Approach

Step 1: Define the System and Scarcity Metrics

Begin by clearly defining the organic system to be controlled and identifying the key resources that are scarce. Establish metrics for measuring scarcity and system performance, ensuring that these metrics are quantifiable and relevant to the system’s goals.

Step 2: Data Collection and Analysis

Implement mechanisms for continuously collecting data on resource availability, system state, and external factors affecting the system. Use data analysis techniques to understand patterns of resource utilization and identify potential bottlenecks or inefficiencies.

Step 3: Adaptive Resource Allocation Mechanism

Develop the core algorithmic component responsible for adaptive resource allocation. This component should use the data collected to make informed decisions about how to distribute resources effectively, considering both current needs and future projections.

Step 4: Feedback Loop Integration

Incorporate feedback loops into the algorithm, allowing it to learn from the outcomes of its actions. This could involve implementing machine learning models that adjust the algorithm’s parameters based on the success or failure of previous decisions.

Step 5: Evolutionary Optimization

Finally, introduce mechanisms for evolutionary optimization, enabling the algorithm to experiment with different strategies and evolve over time. This might involve simulating various scenarios to test the effectiveness of alternative approaches before implementing them in the live system.

Case Study: Smart Review Selection

The Smart Review Selection product was designed with all of these principals in mind. I’ll go through the above steps and showcase how each applies to the Smart Review Selection algorithm itself.

  • Define Scarcity Metrics: The primary scarcity metric is the number of code review hours relative to the amount of time predicted to perform a review of every change.

  • Data Collection and Analysis: The PullRequest application keeps track of how much work each reviewer spends on each change. In addition, it runs AI algorithms to determine if each individual change may require more or less attention than others.

  • Adaptive Resource Allocation: Based on the analysis, the algorithm dynamically determines which reviews should have a higher probability of being sent to the network. If more hours are being spent than predicted, this probability goes down. Similarly, if a change is deemed to be riskier, this probability goes up.

  • Feedback Loop Integration: The algorithm uses feedback from how long each review takes to complete in order to better predict how much time future changes will require. In addition, the underlying data from our reviewers' findings get fed back into our algorithms that determine how risky one change is vs another.

  • Evolutionary Optimization: Each of the modifiers we use to adjust the probility up or down for certain changes have parameters that govern their impact. These are important vectors for adjusting our algorithm’s approach to selecting certain changes over others.


Designing algorithms to control organic systems from a point of scarcity is a complex but rewarding challenge. By embracing the above principles, we can develop algorithms that not only manage scarcity effectively but also promote the resilience and sustainability of the systems they control. These algorithms, inspired by the natural world, have the potential to offer more efficient, secure, and adaptable solutions in a range of applications.

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by Michael Renken

February 14, 2024