The University of Arizona
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Many naturally inspired security solutions are ready to be applied to societal security now.

In society, a cascade towards adaptive security can be initiated by giving more power to individual agents to sense and respond to threats. These agents could be individual people in a community, or individual offices, agencies or states responsible for discrete aspects of a larger security mission. They do not operate completely independently, but rather are empowered through problem solving challenges issued by an agency that has the resources or power to implement solutions. Multiple agents devising and testing a variety of security systems will provide greater likelihood of finding efficient solutions, redundancy to hedge against poor solutions, and potential for more rapid adaptation if selection pressures (such as budgets or media coverage) can be aligned to reward successful adaptations. Symbiotic partnerships between these agents can then extend their utility by bringing new skills and perspectives into emerging problem solving networks.

Given the vast diversity of life, we have only scratched the surface of potential lessons from nature for security in society. For example, biologists understand that organisms in nature inherently accept that risk is inevitable in the environment and, through selection, manage to balance the costs and benefits of developing new adaptations, but we have little ability to predict why certain types of adaptations will arise in a given place or time, which could then reflect on how society could optimally manage a portfolio of emerging and existing risks. Getting closer to this understanding may involve a deeper appreciation (using appropriate biological models such as the immune system and host-parasite interactions) of how particular adaptations take place in a range of situations--are they the product of escalation through repeated direct interactions, a response to chronic stress, or a generalized response to cope with a potential range of natural variation?

Additionally, focusing on rapid adaptation and rapid feedback cycles--such as occur with retroviruses which manage to hijack the adaptive machinery of the immune system and use it against the host body--could be enormously important as a model for understanding how radical ideas are now rapidly spread peer-to-peer using simple messaging between previously unlinked terror groups. This same model could be adapted to aid with the likely need to adapt rapidly to climate change.

Finally, my group has largely focused on evolutionary successes, but the history of life is replete with apparently well-adapted organisms that went extinct. What are the conditions under which even organisms that sense the environment well and reduce their own uncertainty go extinct and what can this tell us about our own failures?  This reminds us of a sobering basic tenet of natural security—those who embrace the process of adaptation survive and thrive, those who don’t, go extinct.