Thursday, November 18, 2010

Understanding Complexity & Resiliency In a Global Environment

John Marke, 2009

This is a very good article and I recommend that everyone read it. He does a good (although incomplete job of describing complexity), but an excellent job of explaining what it means to foreign policy and terrorism.

Here’s Marke’s introduction to the article:

“Chess was the perfect metaphor during the Cold War partly because, long before the Russian Revolution, it has been the opium of the intelligentsia. For Lenin, Trotsky, Gorky and the exiled Bolshevik elite, it was an abiding passion. Once in power, Lenin resolved to make it the classless pastime of the proletariat. It was a purely intellectual recreation, at once science and art, in which chance played no part.

Soviet supremacy in chess would demonstrate the superiority of communism over capitalism. But a darker motive also appealed to Stalin: chess is above all a war game. Ballet and gymnastics played a big role in the image of Soviet culture, but the Cold war made chess unique: only it could be a proxy for the nuclear war that could not be fought without reciprocal annihilation.

And then the unimaginable happened. Time moved on and the Berlin Wall came crashing down. Initial images of celebrating East Germans toasting their new freedom with Coca-Cola and Pepsi cans in hand made the moment even more ideologically sound. The cold war was over and we could now focus on more mundane conflicts waged over soft drinks.

And then the unimaginable happened. Time moved on and the Twin Towers came crashing down. Now without a concrete antagonist America entered a new phase fighting an ambiguous enemy—terror.

If we want to capture our current situation we could liken the U.S. as a decision maker in a complex game of chess. In this game the chess player has many more than then normal number of pieces, several dozen say. Furthermore, these chessmen are linked to each other by rubber bands, so that the player cannot move just one figure alone. Also his men and his opponent‘s men can move on their own and in accordance with rules the player does not fully understand or about which he has mistaken assumptions. And to top things off, some of his own and his opponent‘s men are surrounded by a fog that obscures their identity. Unlike Soviet Russia, the opponent, whether it is Al-Qaeda, Mother Nature, pandemics, or tainted supply lines do not, like a game of chess, simply wait for the player to make moves. They move on their own, whether the player takes that movement into account or not. Reality is not passive but—to some degree – active.

Models, assumptions and paradigms are changing. Phillip Bobbitt and The Princeton Project on National Security have written the obituary for the nation-state, that it is no longer adequate for dealing with transnational risks of terrorism, pandemic, and financial meltdowns and needs to be re-constituted. But it‘s not only about institutions and their constitutions; it‘s about how we think.

Thomas Kuhn wrote that a revolution in how we do science is preceded by a period of crises during which it becomes apparent that, under the growing number of failures, the existing paradigm can no longer be maintained. At that point the scientific community shifts its allegiance to a new paradigm (a new way of thinking about and doing science). These shifts are not limited to the scientific community, they happen in all communities – political, social, and economic – when the prevailing paradigm fails to perform. Look no further than the meltdown of the global economy to see an epic paradigmatic failure. Our traditional risk management assumptions and methodologies failed miserably, both at the enterprise and capital markets levels. Things were just too complex, connected and inter-related—crises proceeds paradigmatic shift.

The thesis here is simple: fight complexity with the science of complexity and complex systems theory. The first step is understanding how we got this way, i.e. what‘s changed and why. The second step is understanding complexity, i.e. what is it, and how does it change things? Then the practical will flow through: Can we use hackers to beat cyber attacks? How can we use network theory to preserve the integrity of global trade and survivability of critical infrastructures? How can we use self -organized criticality to build resilience? How do we re-write the book on risk management so it is effective? We will raise and suggest answers to such questions in this paper.”

He lists the following hallmarks of the 21st century:

  • “Unconstrained by geo-political borders or technology
  • Indeterminate (complexity renders predictability impossible)
  • Emergent (new and not well understood properties emerge): Non-linear effects and power laws, Self-organized criticality, Produce large events i.e. lat tailed threats and black swans, Networks
  • Existential (system may be pushed into phase transition)
  • Non-equilibrium (increasingly unstable and dynamical across political, social/demographic, technological and economic arenas)”

Marke touches on the concept of the power of networks in this intriguing story:

“Consider the following: ―The Cloudmakers & ―The Beast

As part of the publicity for a Steven Spielberg's 2001 film Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Microsoft teamed up with DreamWorks to introduce a complex, on-line game called ―The Beast. This is not a game in the sense that most of us would easily recognize. No, it evolved from an obscure clue embedded in a movie trailer of A.I…here‘s what happened as reported by Jane McGonagall, in her paper, This Is Not a Game': Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play:

The Cloudmakers group was founded on April 11, 2001 by a 24-year-old Cabel Sasser, one of thousands of movie fans who had started to notice a series of digitally distributed clues and that seemed to be some kind of game, but one without clear rules, objectives or rewards. 48 hours after Sasser launched the Cloudmakers, there were 153 new members in the group investigating these mysterious sites. When the game ended on July 24, 2001, the Cloudmakers group had grown to 7480 members who had scribed a total of 42,209 messages. ―The Beast the name producers (Microsoft and DreamWorks) gave to the game, estimated that more than one million people from around the world played the game in online groups.

This was not like ―Deal or No Deal. This was pretty sophisticated stuff. Players were charged with cracking complicated and time-consuming puzzles that variously required programming, translating and hacking skills, obscure knowledge of literature, history and the arts, and brute computing force. The diverse skill and knowledge base required to solve the game's problems, as well as the magnitude of its unwieldy plot, made cooperative groups like the Cloudmakers absolutely necessary.

According to Microsoft, ―What we quickly learned was that the Cloudmakers were a hell of a lot smarter than we are, and that really kept us on our toes…

Here, I'll show you this. [He shows a slide entitled 'Beast Beat ', a puzzle schedule.] Now, there's a color key here for puzzles: hard, easy, not so hard, etc. [Pointing to different colors] These were the puzzles that would take a day, these were puzzles that would take a week, and these puzzles they'd probably never figure out until we broke down and gave them the answers. So we built a three month schedule around this. And finally we released. [Pause] The Cloudmakers solved all of these puzzles on the first day.

On the day of the Sept. 11th attacks, The Cloudmakers gathered on line and, like most Americans were shocked and angered. They wanted to do something.

"We can solve the puzzle of who the terrorists are," one member wrote. Another agreed: "We have the means, resources, and experience to put a picture together from a vast wealth of knowledge and personal intuition." "Let's become a resource. Utilize your computer & analytical talents to generate leads. ―Solving problems is what we do.

What happened? They walked away, lost their confidence, lost their feeling of empowerment. The reality of 9 -11 was that ―this is not a game. And they collectively acknowledged they were getting in over their heads. Maybe yes…maybe no…

What would you do with 7,000 of some of the brightest most diverse, technological savvy minds in the Nation – at your disposal, willing to work around the clock, at no cost, and mobilized to focus on your crisis?”

He summarizes the changing environment as follows:

“The environment is more complex now. This has implications for the assumptions and models that have worked so well for us in the past:

  • National to Transnational: Geo-political borders are irrelevant. We need to learn to work across silos, across borders, across jurisdictions.
  • Tactical to Strategic: Global, 24x7 communications can magnify what would normally be a tactical incident into a full blown global crisis.
  • Linear to Non-Linear: Consequences is disproportional to threat, and may follow a power law rather than a straight line.
  • Epidemic to pandemic: Infectious disease is unconstrained and global
  • Conventional to WMD: Non-state actors, without moderating influence of super powers have the potential to launch WMDs.
  • Hierarchies to Network: We need more than a cursory understanding of how networks work. Why are some fragile? Why can some withstand attacks? How can we increase network resilience?
  • Predictable to Indeterminate: Complexity kills predictability; it wipes it slick and then stomps on it for good measure. This calls into question the models, methodologies and epistemology about ―how the world works.
  • Equilibrium to Instability: Complex systems exist in a realm far from equilibrium.
  • Independent to Inter-dependent: More vulnerable, more consequential
  • Transparent to Opaque: Changes scope of crises/response
  • Near Real Time to Real Time: Reduces options, increases vulnerability, less time to think in a crisis, and adaptation and resilience strategies dominate.
  • Nation-State to Non-Nation State Actor: Changes portfolio of responses, retaliation in kind is no longer relevant if we do not know the perpetrator

These developments herald in a new age of uncertainty and complexity that require a paradigmatic shift from industrial to information age epistemology, from what was merely complicated to the complex.”

He ends the article with, “This paper was intended as a ‘call to arms’ about the possibilities for harnessing complexity as well as the costs for ignoring.” That is using complex systems to understand complex systems. “If complexity defines the problem space then resiliency defines the solution space.” He argues for resiliency and how to build adaptive strategies to solve today’s complex problems.

Understanding Complexity & Resiliency In a Global Environment
John Marke, 2009

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