Social Machines – Why the Bee?

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Bees are pretty social animals. Together, their hierarchical system and super cooperative behaviour makes them an example of a ‘social machine’: an environment comprising both social animals (such as humans) and technology, interacting together in complex ways to produce sometimes chaotic outcomes.

A bee colony, housed in a natural nest or an artificial hive, comprises thousands of individuals working collectively to produce honey and beeswax, operating in sync, interacting with one another and the natural environment, forming a colony that is integrated within a wider system.

Protecting their hive or nest is a crucial aspect of the bees’ function in their colony.

The honey within a hive or nest attracts a variety of outside interest, including animals such as wasps, badgers, birds, and bears. To protect their hive, bees have dedicated guards – who alert other workers and call for reinforcements by releasing pheromones when threatened. As bees and other insects try to come into the hive, the guard bees stop and inspect them at the entrance – determining if an insect can enter, and protecting the hive from any foreign intruders.

The hexagonal pattern seen in bee hives and nests is also a signifier of their strength. One of the few natural shapes which tessellates perfectly, the hexagon allows for overwhelming efficiency in the construction of the hive. Less wax needs to be used due to the connecting of the six sides, and as the hive grows it becomes stronger, the hexagons gain strength under compression. Within the safety of the hive, the bees work together flawlessly; nourishing themselves, raising their young, and serving their queen.

What does this mean?

Bees’ function and success as a colony relies on their ability to socialise, understand their role within their system, and interact with outsiders. Bees are intwined in one another’s lives, protecting the colony and working to ensure the survival of their hive. And we humans too are social, working together in groups and organisations, interacting with one another and working towards shared goals – which can include working to ensure the success of the groups and organisations we belong to.

Likening ourselves to bees, we can think of our group memberships as our hives or colonies. To protect our ‘hive’ from outside threats, we may need to be vigilant to threats, alerting others to their existence so the whole group is protected. Yet threats – nor mitigating them – cannot be allowed these to disrupt our core productive business.

What does this have to do with cyber-security?

Social machines behavioural scientists are experts in changing human behaviour. We help large organisations manage their cyber security risks through helping them change the behaviour of their human technology users – who are both their weakest link and their greatest line of protection. Like bees that identify foreign intruders and release pheromones – we support behaviour change initiatives to make technology users the greatest asset in preventing and mitigating cyber attacks and data breaches: and lowering an organisation’s risk exposure.

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