NECSI's Yaneer Bar-Yam on globalization and why we need a "social brain"
Understanding how collective behavior works can help us make better decisions, keep the peace and innovate. Could network science hold the keys to designing for emergence…and avoiding extinction?
There is a general assumption, even if it’s unspoken, that everyone should get along. That diverse perspectives lead to innovation. That we should have melting pot societies and decentralized organizations and global systems where everyone cooperates. As hyperconnectivity becomes more of a reality everywhere, do we really understand its implications? If you have any part in designing human networks, complexity science tells us, you should consider carefully how you design the boundaries of your networks to encourage or suppress connectivity, encourage independence, and even solve conflict. In this interview with New England Complex Systems Institute’s president, Yaneer Bar-Yam, we explore common network behaviors and how they affect the systems of our brains, our organizations and our nations in ways that scientists are learning to model.
Why is success deceptive and what does that have to do with robot brains, and more important, our current paradigm of innovation? Because nobody innovates in a vacuum, we can look at innovation as a network phenomenon. Network activity can take things that seem distant or unrelated and prove they belong together. Like dropping out of college to tinker in a garage and later running a billion-dollar company. Or vacuum tubes and computation.
“Nature has an evolutionary algorithm, and it depends on emergence.”
This is precisely what Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman, artificial intelligence (AI) researchers and authors of the book Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned
, wanted to understand when they invented the Novelty Search algorithm. If robots can stumble upon the right answer more effectively than working a plan, maybe there’s a lesson in there for ambitious human beings.
Nature has an evolutionary algorithm, and it depends on emergence. Nature is telling us that wild goose chases can be good or bad, depending on which scale you’re zoomed in on. It seeks novelty and will adapt and assimilate nearly everything in its path.
(time’s arrow), prevents us from mapping the great open search space that is the future. We only ge... Read more
Editor’s Note: This is an original draft of an article that was first published in
New Scientist entitled “One rule of life: Are we posted on the border of order?”.
It’s not the midges that were the problem, says Andrea Cavagna
, but the kids. You’d think his efforts to record the movements of midge swarms in the public parks of Rome near sunset would be fraught with risks of being eaten alive by the little beasts — but these were a non-biting variety. Keeping away the children who gathered to watch what these folks were up to with their video cameras, generators and thickets of cabling was another matter. That, and the problem of finding a parking space in central Rome.
It’s not easy, he realised, for a physicist to turn field biologist.
The reason why Cavagna, based at Sapienza University in Rome, and his colleagues went midge-hunting sounds strange, perhaps even bizarre. The researchers wanted to know if midges behave like magnets. More specifically, if they act like magnets close to the point where heat flips them between a magnetic and non-magnetic state: a so-called critical phase transition.
“It’s a delicate balance: you need stability, but also responsiveness.”
&nbs... Read more