Swarms - The Intelligence of the Masses

How does the collective outdo the individual - and what does this mean for science?

It is a stunning sight: hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of fish, birds or insects moving as fast as lightning and as if on command. Except that there is no command, no pilot, no mastermind pulling the strings. It is the swarm itself, which acts as a collective and is capable of behaviour that far exceeds the capabilities of its individuals.

It is a form of intelligence that is radically different from our own: "swarm intelligence". For us humans, this type of intelligence is completely foreign, but it is possible for us to learn from the swarms. Scientists the world over are attempting to discover their secret. Not just biologists however; recently engineers and cyberneticists have joined in the hunt. Their idea is to translate the behaviour of swarms to machines. Robot swarms, which can act autonomously and control themselves, could be used in the future in the field of space exploration and research or for operations in the human body.

If anything, we humans have more in common with swarms that we think. An experiment investigates whether people allow themselves to be led in their decision-making by a collective dynamic - and whether they are actually smarter together.


A journey into the mysterious and complex world of swarms, and at the same time into the very sources of intelligence.


Director: Jakob Kneser

After studying philosophy, history and religious sciences, Jakob Kneser has been working as a director, author and editor. Since 2002 he has made numerous reports, features and documentaries for arts and science television programmes. He has also written and produced various radio features about cultural and scientific topics. Since 2006 he has been concentrating on longer non-fiction television formats. In 2009 he also started working as a freelance lecturer for journalism at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

43 Min.
Director: Jakob Kneser
Script: Jakob Kneser
Cinematography: Christian Eichenauer
Editing: Norik Stepanjan
Music: Wolfram Burgtorf
Editor: Ann-Christin Hornberger
Awards: Best Science Film 2010
Nominations: Best Science Film 2010
Website URL: abada.m@zdf.de