Prigogine observed that things that seem ordered on a macro-scale can in fact be inhomogeneous on a micro-scale.
For instance, here is a photo of some termite mounds, some of which are larger than trees. Structures such as termite mounds can result from a very simple rule: If a termite is not carrying anything and runs across a particle, it picks it up and continues on its way. When it runs across another particle, it drops the particle it is carrying and wanders on its way, waiting for a little while before picking up the next particle. This style of programming is much simpler than the imperative approach of deciding where each particle should go and assigning a termite to move it there.
Perhaps we can use these sorts of local interactions to establish operating patterns and other regional behaviors in applications such as active surfaces.