Market-based algorithms have been introduced several years ago as a new paradigm for controlling complex, unpredictable systems. In a market-based algorithm, resources or tasks are allocated efficiently through a market-clearing mechanism. Agents bid for resources and the agent with the highest bid gets the resource. The market-clearing mechanism ensures that all tasks or resources have been allocated. Agents adjust their bids according to prior successes or failures in getting the resource.
Social insects -ants, bees, termites and wasps-provide us with another metaphor for controlling complex systems. A social insect colony is a complex system often characterized by division of labor: workers tend to be specialized in certain tasks. But this specialization is flexible. The flexibility of task allocation exhibited at the colony level is connected to the elasticity of individual workers.