Thursday, April 28, 2011


With apologies to Lewis Carol and his poem Jabberwocky from Through the Looking Glass, I offer:


’Twas brillig, and the lobbyists[1]
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the bureaucrats[2],
And the ideologues[3] outgrabe.

“Beware the Oligarch[4], my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Oligopolist[5], and shun
The frumious Plutocrat[6]!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Oligarch, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Oligarch?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the Plutocrats
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the theocrats[7],
And corporatocrats[8] outgrabe

[1] A lobbyist is a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest or a member of a lobby. Lobbying (also Lobby) is the intention of influencing decisions made by legislators and officials in the government by individuals, other legislators, constituents, or advocacy groups. Wikipedia

[2] A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can comprise the administration of any organization of any size, though the term usually connotes someone within an institution of a government or corporation. Wikipedia

[3] An often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology. Merriam-Webster

[4] Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people (oligarchs) could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, corporate, or military control. Wikipedia

[5] An oligopoly is a market form in which a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). The word is derived, by analogy with "monopoly. Because there are few sellers, each oligopolist is likely to be aware of the actions of the others. The decisions of one firm influence, and are influenced by, the decisions of other firms. Wikipedia

[6] Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth. The combination of both plutocracy and oligarchy is called plutarchy. Wikipedia

[7] Theocracy is a form of government in which a state is understood as governed by immediate divine guidance especially a state ruled by clergy, or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. Wikipedia

[8] Corporatocracy, in social theories that focus on conflicts and opposing interests within society, denotes a system of government that serves the interest of, and may be run by, corporations and involves ties between government and business; where corporations, conglomerates, and/or government entities with private components, control the direction and governance of a country, including carrying out economic planning notwithstanding the 'free market' label. Wikipedia

Here's the original version in case you've forgotten it:


’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

From Wikipedia: "Jabberwocky" is a poem of nonsense verse written by Lewis Carroll, originally featured as a part of his novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872). The book tells of Alice's travels within the back-to-front world through a looking glass.

While talking with the White King and White Queen (chess pieces), she finds a book written in a strange language that she can't read. Understanding that she is traveling in an inverted world, she sees it is mirror-writing. She finds a mirror and holds it up to a poem on one of the pages, to read out the reflection of "Jabberwocky". She finds it as puzzling as the odd land she has walked into, which we later discover is a dreamscape.

It is considered to be one of the greatest nonsense poems written in the English language. The playful, whimsical poem became a source of nonsense words and neologisms such as "galumphing", "chortle", and "Jabberwocky" itself.

I feel a great deal like Alice having stepped through a looking glass (mirror) and I'm now in a world I no longer recognize.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Insight, Foresight and Hindsight

I thought since the title of my blog is Insights and Foresight, it would be interesting to look at the usage of those terms over time with the Google Books Ngram Viewer. The results surprised me:

The usage of the word foresight has been low throughout the 200 years and slowly dropping. Hidsight has been even lower, but rising over the last 20 years. The surprise to me is the growth in the use of the term insight. We clearly are focusing a lot of what's happening now.

However, looking at the terms past, present and future shows a diffferent picture:
The patterns are very different. Remember however that present has several meanings so its results are ambiguous.

The use of the word complexity may shed some light on what's going on:

Perhaps insight usage is increasing as our description of the world becomes more complex. We need more insight in order to cope.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Crush Point

Crush Point, John Seabrook, The New Yorker, February 8, 2011

"On Thanksgiving Day, 2008, shoppers began lining up outside the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, Long Is-land, at 5 :30 P.M., near a small, handwritten sign that read "Blitz Line Starts Here." Like many other retailers holding "doorbuster" Black Friday sales, Wal¬Mart was offering deep discounts on a limited number of TVs, iPods, DVD players, and other coveted products. Only two months earlier, the U.S. economy had nearly collapsed, and although the Christmas shopping season was looking dismal, there was still some dim hope that the nation might be able to shop its way out of disaster, as we were advised to do after 9/11.

By two in the morning, the line ran the length of the building, past Perland, turned at a wire fence, and stretched far into the bleak parking lot of the Green Acres Mall, a tundra of frosted tarmac. There were already more than a thousand people. Store managers had placed eight interlocking plastic barriers between the front of the line and the outer doors to the store, to create a buffer zone that would keep people from crowding around the entrance. But at three people began jumping the barriers. The store's assistant manager, Mike Sicuranza, spoke to the manager, Steve Sooknanan, who had gone to a hotel to rest, and told him that customers had breached the buffer zone. Sicuranza sounded frightened. Sooknanan told him to call the police.

The Nassau County police arrived soon after the call, and, using bullhorns, ordered everyone to get back behind the barriers. The police were still there at four, when Sooknanan returned to the store. Shortly afterward, a Wal-Mart employee brought some family members inside the barriers, angering the crowd. About two hundred shoppers pushed into the buffer zone. Those in front were squeezed against two sliding glass outer doors that led into a glassed-in, high-ceilinged entrance vestibule that also held some vending machines. These had been pushed to the center of the space, to prevent people from crossing it diagonally and entering through the exit doors. As more people gathered, in anticipation of the store's opening, at 5 A.M., the pressure on the doors built and they began to shake. "Push the doors in!" some chanted from the back.

Employees asked the police for help.

According to a court filing, the police responded that dealing with this crowd was "not in their job description," and they left. Of the two-man security force that Wal-Mart had hired for Blitz Day, only one had shown up, and he was inside the store. Shortly before five, the crowd had grown to about two thousand people. The store's asset-protection manager, Sal D'Amico, advised Sooknanan not to open the doors, but Sooknanan overruled him. He instructed eight to ten of his largest employees, most of whom worked in the stockroom, to stand at the sides of the vestibule as the outer doors were opened, and be ready to help anyone who tripped or fell.

One of those men was Jdimytai Damour, who lived in Jamaica, Qweens; his parents were Haitian immigrants. Damour was thirty-four, and beefy-at six feet five inches tall, he weighed around four hundred and eighty pounds. Friends called him Jdidread, because he wore his hair in dreadlocks. He had been working at Wal-Mart for about a week, as a temporary employee in the stockroom. Like the others in the vestibule, he had no training in security or crowd control. A co-worker had reportedly heard him say earlier, "I don't want to be here."

Just before five, the workers realized that a pregnant woman, Leana Lockley, a twenty-eight-year-old part-time college student from South Ozone Park, was being crushed against the glass on the outer doors. The managers slid them open just enough to pull Lockley inside the vestibule. The crowd surged forward, thinking that the store was opening. The workers shut the doors again and braced both sliding doors with their bodies to keep them from caving in, as Sooknanan initiated the festive countdown, a Wal- Mart Blitz Day tradition. Ten, nine, eight ... At zero, the doors were opened again. There was a loud cracking sound as both sliding doors burst from their frame, and the crowd boiled in.

Dennis Fitch, one of the workers standing at the entrance, was blown backward, through the inner vestibule doors and into the store. Others man-aged to jump to safety atop the vending machines. Some attempted to form a human chain on the other side of the vestibule, to slow down the crowd rushing into the store. A crush soon developed inside the vestibule, but the people who were still outside, pushing forward, weren't aware of it. Leana Lockley was carried through the vestibule and into the store by the surge, and she tripped over an older woman, who was on the ground. As she got to her knees, she later said, she saw Damour next to her. "I was screaming that I was pregnant, I am sure he heard that," she told Newsday. "He was trying to block the people from pushing me down to the ground and trampling me .... It was a split second, and we had eye contact as we knew we were going to die."

Co-workers later testified that Damour was hit by one of the two sliding glass doors. As he went down, the door fell on top of him, and people fell over it. Maybe he got up again to help Lockley, but that's not clear in camera and cell-phone-video footage of the scene. He just vanishes into the frantic tangle of limbs."

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I think that this type of situation is an example of a complex system moving from one with emergent properties (like a school of fish or a flock of birds) to a complex system in a critical state (nonequilibrium - like an earthquake or a landslide).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is there Something Wrong with the Scientific Method?

The Truth Wears Off, Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker, December 13, 2010

Is there something wrong with the scientific method?

On September 18, 2007, a few dozen neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and drug-company executives gathered in a hotel conference room in Brussels to hear some startling news. It had to do with a class of drugs known as atypical or second-generation antipsychotics, which came on the market in the early nineties. The drugs, sold under brand names such as Ability, Seroquel, and Zyprexa, had been tested on schizophrenics in several large clinical trials, all of which had demonstrated a dramatic decrease in the subjects' psychiatric symptoms. As a result, second generation antipsychotics had become one of the fastest-growing and most profitable pharmaceutical classes. By 2001, Eli Lilly's Zyprexa was generating more revenue than Prozac. It remains the company's top-selling drug.

But the data presented at the Brussels meeting made it clear that something strange was happening: the therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to be steadily waning. A recent study showed an effect that was less than half of that documented in the first trials, in the early nineteen-nineties. Many researchers began to argue that the expensive pharmaceuticals weren't any better than first-generation antipsychotics, which have been in use since the fifties.

"In fact, sometimes they now look even worse," John Davis, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me.

Before the effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested and tested again. Different scientists in different labs need to repeat the protocols and publish their results. The test of replicability, as it's known, is the foundation of modem research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself It's a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise of replicability is that the scientific community can correct for these flaws.

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It's as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn't yet have an official name, but it's occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved? Which results should we believe? Francis Bacon, the early-modern philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, once declared that experiments were essential, because they allowed us to "put nature to the question." But it appears that nature often gives us different answers.

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The Efficiency Dilemma

The Efficiency Dilemma, David Own, The New Yorker, December 20 and 27, 2010

If our machines use less energy, will we just use more?

"In April, the federal government ad­opted standards for automobiles re­quiring manufacturers to improve the average fuel economy of their new-car fleets thirty per cent by 2016. The Times, in an editorial titled "Everybody Wins," said the change would produce "a trifecta of benefits." Those benefits were enumerated last year by Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy: a reduc­tion in total oil consumption of 1.8 bil­lion barrels; the elimination of nine hundred and fifty million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions; and savings, for the average American driver, of three thousand dollars .

Chu, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997, has been an evange­list for energy efficiency, and not just for vehicles. I spoke with him in July, shortly after he had conducted an inter­national conference called the Clean Energy Ministerial, at which efficiency was among the main topics. "I feel very passionate about this," he told me. 'We in the Department of Energy are trying to get the information out that efficiency really does save money and doesn't nec­essarily mean that you're going to have to make deep sacrifices."

Energy efficiency has been called "the fifth fuel" (after coal, petroleum, nuclear power, and renewable) ; it is seen as a cost-free tool for accelerating the transition to a green-energy econ­omy. In 2007, the United Nations Foundation said that efficiency im­provements constituted "the largest, the most evenly geographically distributed, and least expensive energy resource." Last year, the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company concluded that a national efficiency program could eliminate "up to 1.1 gigatons of green­house gases annually." The environ­mentalist Amory Lovins, whose think­ing has influenced Chu's, has referred to the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents as "not a free lunch, but a lunch you're paid to eat," since a fluorescent bulb will usually save enough electricity to more than offset its higher purchase price. Tanta­lizingly, much of the technology required to increase efficiency is well understood. The World Economic Forum, in a report called "Towards a More Energy Efficient World," observed that "the average refrigerator sold in the United States today uses three quarters less energy than the 1975 average, even though it is 20% larger and costs 60% less"-an improvement that Chu cited in his conversation with me.

But the issue may be less straight-forward than it seems. The thirty-five-year period during which new refrigerators have plunged in electricity use is also a period during which the global market for refrigeration has burgeoned and the world's total energy consumption and carbon output, including the parts directly attributable to keeping things cold, have climbed. Similarly, the first fuel-economy regulations for U.S. cars-which were enacted in 1975, in response to the Arab oil embargo were followed not by a steady decline in total U.S. motor-fuel consumption but by a long-term rise, as well as by increases in horsepower, curb weight, vehicle miles traveled (up a hundred per cent since 1980), and car ownership (America has about fifty million more registered vehicles than licensed drivers). A growing group of economists and others have argued that such correlations aren't coincidental. Instead, they have said, efforts to improve energy efficiency can more than negate any environmental gains-an idea that was first proposed a hundred and fifty years ago, and which came to be known as the Jevons paradox*.

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* Note: In economics, the Jevons paradox, sometimes called the Jevons effect, is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource. In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption. Wikipedia

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Art and Science

John Maeda's artilce On Meaningful Observation that I wrote about earlier got me to thinking when I starting playing with the Books Ngram Viewer. How are art and science written about in English? And, how about the makeup of STEM and IDEA that he talked about?

OK I know I'm already addicted to the Books Ngram Viewer. If you are a concept or word person, beware. It is extremely addictive. It's so easy to ask it questions...

One of the wrtiers about the Books Ngram Viewer commented that he thought the tool was going to raise more questions than answer them. So far I agree with that. Everyime I've used it to answer a question, it's raised several more.

Here's the result of the comparison between art and science. I was surprised by the result given the present priority allocated science of late. it shows that the two are coming togehter up to 2000, but art has had more mentions than science over the 200 year history.

There are three questions that immediately jump to my mind upon viewing the graphic:
  1. Why are they cyclical? Both shows cycles of about 20 years in the 1800s, and slow down to about 40 years near 2000. What would cause the cycles?
  2. Why are the cycles slowing down? Isn't everything we do now speeding up? We're all interconnected electronically.
  3. Why are the cycles of art and science synchronized? Aren't they the opposites of one another - protagonists in the struggle for the control over our minds?
STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. What's the pattern of usage for these words?

It came as a surprise to me how modern the word technology is. It really didn't get started until the 1960s. Since that's when I graduated from college, I've always known and used the word. It's now used just about as frequently as science, and in many cases probably used interchangeably, although they are vastly different concepts. What caused the little blip in the early 1900s in technology?*

Mathematics was mentioned more in the 1800s, but engineering now surpasses mathematics in usage. But neither come close to science and technology.

On the art side we have IDEA - intuition, design, emotion and art. What's their usage pattern?

Mentions of art have been declining over the past 200 years and are now surpassed by design. That doesn't surprise me as I seem to be very aware of a design movement in the Western world. What caused the design peak in the early 1800s?

Emotion and intuition don't seem to get mentioned much at all. This surprises me because the combination of those two concepts probably drive most of human activities. Is it just our dirty laundry that we don't want to write about?

*Note: Looking at some of the titles of books published in that time suggests that it was the time period of the development of the technologies of natural and man made materials. But I did not draw a comparison sample from other time periods.

Books Ngram Viewer and Technology Substitution

I'm wondering if Books Ngram Viewer can be used for technology substitution analysis:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Women Mentioned More than Men

I was playing with Google's new tool Books Ngram Viewer and discovered that women are now mentioned in books more than men.

Dana Chivvis wrote, "The Books Ngram Viewer, which Google created with the Encyclopedia Britannica and scientists from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, takes 500 billion words from 5.2 million digitized books and allows you to track their usage over time. The result is a database that shows when certain phrases, people, ideas and trends faded in and out of fashion."

"The Harvard team has named the new analysis "culturomics," as a means of expressing the idea that culture can be studied quantitatively. They have come to some interesting conclusions already, that people become famous at a much earlier age today than before, for instance, but that they also fall from notoriety much faster too. Their study was published in the journal Science today.

"They've come up with something that is going to make an enormous difference in our understanding of history and literature," Robert Darnton, cultural historian and director of the Harvard University Library, told The Wall Street Journal.

Erez Lieberman Aiden, one of the lead researchers at Harvard, told Scientific American that they do not see the Ngram Viewer as an answer factory. Instead, many of the findings in the database will elicit a multitude of questions.

The current Ngram database took about four years to assemble, and the team intends to add more books, magazines, newspapers and blogs -- and also non-text-based work such as art -- in the future."

Here's the result of my effort:

One thing that curious about this result is that the total mentions of men and women have declined over this time period. Books are mentioning both genders less?

I tried woman and man as well as she and he. In both these cases the female gender does not yet get mentioned more or even as much as the male gender. And, in both these cases the total mentions is decreasing.

On Meaningful Observation: Science and Art

On Meaningful Observation, John Maeda, Seed Magazine, 12/27/10

"A silver lining in the dark cloud of any recession—especially this one, thought to be caused by our own greed and excess—is the opportunity it affords us to reexamine our collective values. On the positive side, the nation seems to be as committed as ever to the power of innovation as America’s saving grace. What is less comforting to me as president of an art and design school is how America defines innovation. Do a search on the White House website for the word “innovation” and the top results revolve around technology; talk to any parent with children in public schools and you will hear about arts-education resources diminishing quickly. I feel there is a disconnect between the words “innovation” and “art” that needs to be resolved if the United States is to prevail as the most creative economy in our world.

Public commitments to STEM—science, technology, engineering, math—education abound all over the country. In the government’s mind, these subjects are the key to innovation. As a lifelong STEM student myself, with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, I am certainly not one to diminish its value. Yet in recent years even supremely dedicated geeks like me have begun to question the advances that come from purely technological innovation."


"...I’ve begun to wonder recently whether STEM needs something to give it some STE(A)M—an “A” for art between the engineering and the math to ground the bits and bytes in the physical world before us, to lift them up and make them human. What if America approached innovation with more than just technology? What if, just like STEM is made up of science, technology, engineering and math, we had IDEA, made of intuition, design, emotion, and art—all the things that make us humans feel, well, human? It seems to me that if we use this moment to reassess our values, putting just a little bit of our humanity back into America’s innovation engines will lead to the most meaningful kind of progress. By doing so, we will find a way back to integrating thinking with making and being and feeling and living so that left- and right-brained creativity can lift our economy back into the sky."

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The Power of the People

The Power of the People, Dave Munger, Seed Magazine, 12/22/10

"Some of the most influential scientists in history, from Franklin, to Lavoisier, to Mendel, weren’t formally educated in their fields of study. They just took an interest, and started conducting experiments, sometimes in their own back yards. But more recently, the specialized tools of science have put new discoveries out of reach for ordinary people. Now that dynamic is beginning to change again.

The internet has spawned a fantastic explosion in science that allows non-experts to actually participate in science by interacting with scientific data itself. I wrote about several such projects last year. Now, in just the past week, two new public tools for analyzing data have been unveiled, from two very different fields of study.

First, the Zooniverse project has released its newest endeavor, called The Milky Way Project. One of the astronomers working on the project, Sarah Kendrew, explained how the project works on her blog last week. Users from among the hundreds of thousands registered with Zooniverse log in to their accounts and are shown images of the Milky Way from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Their job: To identify regions known as “bubbles,” areas of gas and other debris that appear to be arranged in nearly-spherical structures."


"But the Milky Way Project was upstaged a bit last week by another project that allows anyone to dig deep into data of a different sort: a significant percentage of the entirety of books that have ever been published. The project’s founders are calling it “culturomics,” and their first journal article on the topic was published last week in Science. The research has been discussed extensively on blogs, but the best way to experience the work might just be to visit the tool Google developed that allows anyone to see a cross-section of a vast dataset: the Books Ngram Viewer. Type in any word (or several words or short phrases separated by commas), and you’ll instantly be presented with a graph showing the how frequently that word has been used over the past two centuries. Here’s the graph I made for macaroni and spaghetti, showing that macaroni was the more popular term until about 1950, and spaghetti was essentially unheard of before 1880."


"Projects like Zooniverse and Google’s Ngram Viewer represent crowd-sourcing on the grandest scale yet achieved. What I’d like to see next is an analysis of the crowds who are using these tools. What words do people look up? What methods do they use to identify galaxies and bubbles—and how long do they persist at it? The answers to these questions may, in turn, lead to even more powerful tools—and a greater understanding of our world."

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Here's an example that I tried of the Books Ngram Viewer. I searched for two words that I think should go together: innovation and commons:

You can see that the word commons has been dropping for a long time, and innovation has been rising. Interesting. Don't know what it means but it's another cool tool.

On Competitive Collaboration

On Competitive Collaboration, Rolf Heuer, Seed Magazine, 11/26/10

"Fundamental science drives technology and innovation, laying the foundations for progress and improvement. It’s hard to find a company that does not rely on the fruits of basic research in carrying out its day-to-day business. Basic research is the lifeblood of industry—without it, there would be no science to apply, and any commitment to improving the state of the world would be bound to fail.

The timescale from lab to marketplace is often long, far longer than any political cycle, and for that reason basic science is rarely a top priority for government decision makers. So, under pressure to deliver quick results, science policy frequently strives to identify those areas of applied science that can mature before the next election. Thankfully, humans are curious by nature, so basic research continues to attract some of the brightest minds, and a reasonable share of the funding. It’s just as well, since without it progress would slowly come to a halt."


"Science and its technological spin-offs are not the only ways in which the LHC* community can contribute to improving the state of the world. Since taking up my mandate as director general of CERN, I have found myself responding to as many questions about the management of the particle-physicists community as about the science itself. Can you run a $10 billion project with hundreds of partners on the basis of consensus? Does competitive collaboration really work? Are there lessons for the business community in how basic science is adapting to an increasingly globalized world? The answer to all these questions is clearly yes. As well as generating knowledge and driving innovation, the way we manage “big science” can serve as a role model for a wider section of society.

Globalization comes naturally to particle physicists. Traditionally, the big labs such as CERN have provided infrastructure that has been open to scientists from around the world. Typically, there have been at least two such facilities in the world addressing the same scientific questions from different angles and engendering a spirit of collaborative competition—two words that do not usually sit comfortably together. What this has shown is that governance by consensus, fueled by collaboration and competition, can deliver outstanding results.

A deeper understanding of the universe, new technologies, and a role model for managing broadly distributed and culturally varied organizations: These are outcomes of basic science that are valuable to society. And it’s reasonable to expect the scientific community to deliver them in the short term. The most valuable in terms of sustained improvement of the world is the one closest to my heart—understanding the universe and in the process laying down a new seam of fundamental scientific knowledge for future generations to mine. Human ingenuity being what it is, the future will undoubtedly bring applications based on discoveries made with the LHC. Although, as with Newton’s gravity, it may be some time before we’re privy to all of them, and to their implications. For our children and grandchildren, however, I am sure that the wait will have been worthwhile."

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* LHC: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. It is expected to address some of the most fundamental questions of physics, advancing the understanding of the deepest laws of nature. Wikipedia

On the Next Internet: Grid Computing

On the Next Internet, Bob Jones, Seed Magazine, 2/9/11

"Charles Curran, a physicist who recently retired as the longtime storage consultant at CERN, remembers the old days of data access: when filling a request from a researcher was often a labor-intensive, daylong misadventure.

In the 1970s, information from CERN’s accelerators and experiments was stored on tapes, held in a huge library in the IT department, originally retrieved manually by operators and then copied to disk for the researcher. Overworked operators fell asleep, went missing for hours at a time, invented trickery to make the machines work faster, and overloaded the conveyor belts, causing tapes to fall off and disappear. Tape-retrieval robots squared off against mice (in one documented case, the mouse was found months later, desiccated) or overheated when they couldn’t reach tapes, melting their wheels in frustration. A request to see a certain tape often took 24 hours to fill.

Now the wait is about two minutes, hardly enough time to get a cup of coffee."


"The fundamentals of grid computing, first developed to allow complex physics projects, has led to a related technology known as cloud computing, heavily virtualized distributed computing, which has been adopted for many commercial applications. The public may not know they are using a cloud—but they are. Online banking, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, and web-based email are all examples of heavily virtualized services that exist “out in the cloud.” Making a full cycle, grid computing itself is adopting aspects of cloud technology, making more use of virtualization and setting up grid sites in the cloud. However, true grid infrastructure still excels at collaborative sharing of resources belonging to different institutions; clouds spread the resources of one domain to the rest of the world for remote access. Collaboration is the basis of all the large-scale scientific challenges (e.g., CERN has 20 member states). Projects like the LHC are too big for any one organization or one country to do alone; collaboration is the only option. The same holds for the major challenges facing society across other disciplines (energy, climate change, food production). Now that we have excellent ways to reach and share data, we have a whole new set of problems, albeit more sophisticated. Who owns freely shared data? How long should it be kept? What besides the data must be kept so we can use it? Who pays for the energy to store data? How can researchers or disciplines resistant to sharing—afraid their ideas will be poached—be encouraged in a “publish or perish’’ world?"

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Is Population a Problem?

Is Population a Problem, Maywa Montenegro, Seed Magazine, 6/10/10

Some excerpts:

"The number of people on Earth is expected to grow from 6.5 billion to about 9 billion by 2050. That much is relatively uncontroversial. But recently, we’ve seen disparate views emerge as to how this population growth will affect the planet.

Four decades after publishing The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich, for one, is still a firm believer that overpopulation—and along with it, overconsumption—is the central environmental crisis facing the world. In an opinion piece for Yale e360, he and Anne Ehrlich write: “Many human societies have collapsed under the weight of overpopulation and environmental neglect, but today the civilization in peril is global. The population factor in what appears to be a looming catastrophe is even greater than most people suppose.” The reason, say the Ehrlichs, is that each additional person today on average causes more damage to humanity’s life support systems than did the previous addition. And because Homo sapiens are smart creatures, we have already farmed the richest soils and tapped the most abundant water sources. Therefore, to support more people, it will be necessary to move to poorer lands, dig deeper wells, and spend more energy to transport food and water to increasingly distant homes and factories. Population, the Ehrlichs aver, remains an underacknowledged apocalypse in waiting.

Others, however, take a markedly different view. In the recently published book, The Coming Population Crash, and in a series of articles also for e360, environmental journalist Fred Pearce looks at the same demographic trends and sees very good news. “The population bomb is being defused at a quite remarkable rate,” he writes. “Women around the world have confounded the doomsters and are choosing to have dramatically fewer babies.” He then goes on to cite declining fertility rates in countries across Europe, Asia, and Latin America. And in Africa, where high fertility remains the norm, Pearce is optimistic that those extra people can provide a way out of the continent’s poverty trap. Bad agriculture, not population growth, he contends, is the continent’s main predicament—and in this essay, he describes how more people, employed on ecologically friendly, small-scale farms will be key to African sustainable development. Chris Reij, a Dutch geographer whom Pearce interviews for the article, concurs. “The idea that population pressure inevitably leads to increased land-degradation is a myth,” he says. “It does not. Innovation is common in regions where there is high population pressure.”

Consumption, not population, Pearce concludes, is the main problem confronting human society today. After all, he writes, “virtually all of the extra 2 billion or so people expected on this planet in the coming 40 years will be in the poor half of the world.” Assuming per capita emissions remain roughly where they are today, those 2 billion poor people will only boost the developing world’s share of greenhouse gas emissions from 7 to 11 percent. In other words, achieving zero population growth—even if it were possible—would barely touch the climate problem. The real culprits, according to Pearce, are not “generations of poor not yet born” people, but the stable population in the developed world with its gigantic ecological footprint."


"The paradox embedded in our future is that the fastest way to slow our population growth is to reduce poverty, yet the fastest way to run out of resources is to increase wealth. The trial ahead is to strike the delicate compromise: between fewer people, and more people with fewer needs, in a new economy geared towards sustainability. The easy part is birth control. The hard part, as Paul and Anne Ehrlich write, is that we still don’t have condoms to prevent over consumption, or morning-after pills to reverse unwanted buying-sprees."

Julia Whitty


"So, in all of this doom and gloom, is there any good news?

Yes: not too long ago, demographers were forecasting that global population by 2050 would reach 10 to 12 billion, instead of the 9 we expect today. And when I was a kid, people were talking about 15 to 18 billion people by 2050. As population forecasts have been revised over the years, they have generally been revised downward.

Fortunately, population growth in the world appears to be slowing faster than anyone forecasted, largely through voluntarily measures (with the exception of a few states like China), while simultaneously improving human welfare around the world. The demographic transition appears to be working. People, all across the world, are choosing to have smaller families.

The bad news is that consumption appears to be still increasing rapidly, with no end in sight. So far, there hasn’t been a negative feedback on consumption, telling us to slow down. The rich want to be richer. Big consumers want to consume even more. It’s an endless treadmill, and no one knows how to get off. Instead of the “Population Bomb” of the 1960s, we now have an even larger “Consumption Bomb”, and we don’t now how to diffuse it. And this bomb may well define our relationship to the environment for the 21 century and beyond."

Jonathan Foley

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wealth of Nations

Wealth of Nations, Seed Magazine, 11/29/10

This article describes some fundamental changes in the ways we look at and measure wealth. It could lead eventually into an economic revolution globally. Here are a few excerpts:

"Amid the dark clouds of the 2008 financial crisis, as the media documented a litany of bank failures, collapsed credit markets, and growing panic well beyond Wall Street, there was a brighter headline: For the first time since scientists began tracking them, carbon emissions in the United States decreased. The drop was marginal, but this environmental success, when juxtaposed with the crippled economy, raised a troubling point: Two important objectives—mitigating climate change and reviving the economy—were at cross-purposes. And it now appears likely that this contradictory relationship extends far beyond atmospheric carbon and climate change. In area after area, issue after issue, economic growth appears to be whittling away at the very foundations of the global economy: the ecosystems that supply our food, fuel, clean water, and stable climate. Our principle measure of success, the gross domestic product, or GDP, excludes the worth and loss of ecosystems and the services they provide, because as valuable as they are, they have no price."


"The global public good that both epitomizes and encompasses the challenges that the world faces today is biological diversity, the variety of life on Earth. “Biodiversity loss is, in a sense, the big problem of which all others are relatively small applications,” says Charles Perrings, an environmental economist at Arizona State University and a fellow of the Beijer Institute in Stockholm. Biodiversity is the foundation of ecosystems that capture carbon and energy, and that cycle water and nutrients through the biosphere. These processes, in turn, enable all of the activities—from plant photosynthesis to potato farming—that make human life on Earth possible. Another way of looking at it, says Perrings, is that most human activity boils down to changing the mix of organisms with which we interact. Public health, for instance, is the control of which pathogens come into contact with humans. Farming is simply the tweaking of wild species to suit human tastes and energy needs. Science, medicine, and global agriculture rely heavily on the barely explored cornucopia of the world’s genetic resources. The loss of biodiversity, then, is the loss of everything.

To begin putting a price on such global public goods, says Perrings, we must understand that biodiversity has a dual nature. A healthy forest, for example, provides an array of public services, such as carbon sequestration and water filtration. The components of forestland, however—the trees, animals, and soil—are often privately owned. According to Perrings, this creates large externalities: Private actions, such as cutting down trees, have an effect on public well-being that isn’t reflected in the price of that timber. Clean water that benefits the region, medicinal plants that could benefit the nation, and carbon sequestration that is valuable to the entire world are all at risk of destruction because they are invisible to the market."


"Ecologies, we’re now beginning to understand, are best described as complex adaptive systems, with biodiversity as the key to their ability to absorb shocks and stresses. And the economic value of such resilience is likely to be extremely high. Experts have surmised, for example, that mass erosion of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands was largely to blame for the billions of dollars in damage from Hurricane Katrina. Some scientists now say that the worldwide push toward monoculture and away from crop diversity could create huge vulnerabilities in the global food supply."


"So today’s more sophisticated assessments don’t just attempt to quantify the benefits that ecosystems provide to humans; they also figure in the costs of foregone economic development and the expenses of conservation. A major 2002 review of 300 case studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that by investing $45 billion per year in a global reserve program, we could protect natural services worth some $5 trillion—a benefit-cost ratio of 100:1. In other words, even when the steep costs of non-development are figured into the equation, nature’s services emerge as the ultimate bargain.

It is increasingly evident that safeguarding ecosystems makes solid financial sense, yet biodiversity and the services that ecosystems provide have long been overlooked by classical economists. That is all about to change."


"Using more holistic metrics, we may unearth some telling truths. The US is an unrivaled powerhouse when it comes to per capita GDP: $47,500 per person as of 2008. Take into account life expectancy, “life satisfaction,” and ecological footprint, however, and suddenly the top ranking goes to Costa Rica, a nation with a per capita GDP of just $11,600. The global public value of Costa Rica’s forests, coupled with its robust PES* program to keep those forestlands healthy, is a major contributor to its top-notch ranking. In short, biodiversity and ecosystems can become a large slice of a poor nation’s development pie."

* Payments for Ecosystems Services


"Valuing ecosystems will strike some as a heartless utilitarian approach, tantamount to slapping dollar signs on species, soils, oceans, and air. What it presages, however, will be a change in the very shape of the global economic system: by valuing our landscapes and the services they impart, by recalibrating incentives toward their preservation, and by respecting the needs of communities most closely dependent on them. We will not just value what nature provides, but also reorganize around a new definition of what is valuable. "

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On Early Warning Signs

On Early Warning Signs, George Sugihara, Seed Magazine, 12/20/10

Complex systems do not act like simple or even complicate systems.

"They can appear stationary for a long while, then without anything changing, they exhibit jumps in variability—so-called “heteroscedasticity.” For example, if one looks at the range of economic variables over the past decade (daily market movements, GDP changes, etc.), one might guess that variability and the universe of possibilities are very modest. This was the modus operandi of normal risk management. As a consequence, the likelihood of some of the large moves we saw in 2008, which happened over so many consecutive days, should have been less than once in the age of the universe.

Our problem is that the scientific desire to simplify has taken over, something that Einstein warned against when he paraphrased Occam: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Thinking of natural and economic systems as essentially stable and decomposable into parts is a good initial hypothesis, current observations and measurements do not support that hypothesis—hence our continual surprise. Just as we like the idea of constancy, we are stubborn to change. The 19th century American humorist Josh Billings, perhaps, put it best: “It ain’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that just ain’t so.”

So how do we proceed? There are a number of ways to approach this tactically, including new data-intensive techniques that model each system uniquely but look for common characteristics. However, a more strategic approach is to study these systems at their most generic level, to identify universal principles that are independent of the specific details that distinguish each system. This is the domain of complexity theory.

Among these principles is the idea that there might be universal early warning signs for critical transitions, diagnostic signals that appear near unstable tipping points of rapid change. The recent argument for early warning signs is based on the following: 1) that both simple and more realistic, complex nonlinear models show these behaviors, and 2) that there is a growing weight of empirical evidence for these common precursors in varied systems.

A key phenomenon known for decades is so-called “critical slowing” as a threshold approaches. That is, a system’s dynamic response to external perturbations becomes more sluggish near tipping points. Mathematically, this property gives rise to increased inertia in the ups and downs of things like temperature or population numbers—we call this inertia “autocorrelation”—which in turn can result in larger swings, or more volatility. In some cases, it can even produce “flickering,” or rapid alternation from one stable state to another (picture a lake ricocheting back and forth between being clear and oxygenated versus algae-ridden and oxygen-starved). Another related early signaling behavior is an increase in “spatial resonance”: Pulses occurring in neighboring parts of the web become synchronized. Nearby brain cells fire in unison minutes to hours prior to an epileptic seizure, for example, and global financial markets pulse together. The autocorrelation that comes from critical slowing has been shown to be a particularly good indicator of certain geologic climate-change events, such as the greenhouse-icehouse transition that occurred 34 million years ago; the inertial effect of climate-system slowing built up gradually over millions of years, suddenly ending in a rapid shift that turned a fully lush, green planet into one with polar regions blanketed in ice."

I'm not sure about our ability to find early warning signs in complex systems. Right now to me these attempts remind me of people trying to find ways around the second law of thermodynamics. People were always inventing perpetual motion machines only to have scientists eventually point out the flaw in the machine. Many people refused to believe that nature was so perverse as to not be completely reversible. (See note at end.)

I'm not sure that it's reached the state of a law of complex systems but it sure looks like one: that the future state of a complex system cannot be be predicted. That destroys everything that we thought we knew about logical determinism.

Complexity theory is rooted in Chaos theory, which in turn has its origins more than a century ago in the work of the French mathematician Henri Poincaré. Chaos is sometimes viewed as extremely complicated information, rather than as an absence of order. The point is that chaos remains deterministic. With perfect knowledge of the initial conditions and of the context of an action, the course of this action can be predicted in chaos theory. As argued by Ilya Prigogine, complexity is non-deterministic, and gives no way whatsoever to precisely predict the future. However, even chaotic systems are in real life unpredictable because there is no way to have perfect knowledge of the state of the chaotic system.

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Note: The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system. From the state of thermodynamic equilibrium, the law deduced the principle of the increase of entropy and explains the phenomenon of irreversibility in nature. The second law declares the impossibility of machines that generate usable energy from the abundant internal energy of nature by processes called perpetual motion of the second kind.

On Systemic Risk

On Systemic Risk, Ian Goldin, Seed Magazine, 12/16/10

"Systemic risk, as the world has learned the hard way, may arise as a result of the operation of market forces and is transmitted across geopolitical boundaries. As a consequence, it demands regulatory intervention as well as cooperation between countries. A new paradigm for dealing with systemic risk is needed.

Looming systemic risks include pandemics, which may spread more rapidly across a densely connected world, and bio-terrorism risks, which are likely to become increasingly systemic in the 21st century. The ability to produce biological and other weapons of mass destruction is becoming more widespread, especially among non-state actors, due to technological innovation (not least with the development of DNA synthesizers). Increases in population density, urbanization, and the growth of connectivity, both physically and virtually, means that dangerous recipes and panic can be instantaneously transmitted globally. And climate change, a silent tsunami that crept up on us, presents major systemic environmental, social, and economic risks to humanity."

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On Resilience

On Resilience, Carl Folke, Seed Magazine, 2/9/11

"Loosely defined, resilience is the capacity of a system—be it an individual, a forest, a city, or an Linkeconomy—to deal with change and continue to develop. It is both about withstanding shocks and disturbances (like climate change or financial crisis) and using such events to catalyze renewal, novelty, and innovation. In human systems, resilience thinking emphasizes learning and social diversity. And at the level of the biosphere, it focuses on the interdependence of people and nature, the dynamic interplay of slow and gradual change. Resilience, above all, is about turning crisis into opportunity.

Resilience theory, first introduced by Canadian ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling in 1973, begins with two radical premises. The first is that humans and nature are strongly coupled and coevolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system. The second is that the long-held, implicit assumption that systems respond to change in a linear—and therefore predictable—fashion is altogether wrong. In resilience thinking, systems are understood to be in constant flux, highly unpredictable, and self-organizing with feedbacks across multiple scales in time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmark features of complexity.

A key feature of complex adaptive systems is their ability to self-organize along a number of different pathways with possible sudden shifts between states: A lake, for example, can exist in either an oxygenated, clear state or an algae-dominated, murky one. A financial market can float on a housing bubble or settle into a basin of recession. Conventionally, we’ve tended to view the transition between such states as gradual. But there is increasing evidence that systems often don’t respond to change in a smooth way: The clear lake seems hardly affected by fertilizer runoff until a critical threshold is passed, at which point the water abruptly goes turbid. Resilience science focuses on these sorts of regime shifts and tipping points. It looks at incremental stresses, such as accumulation of greenhouse gases in combination with chance events—things like storms, fires, even stock market crashes—that can tip a system into another equilibrium state from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover. How far can a system be perturbed before this shift happens? How much shock can a system absorb before it transforms into something fundamentally different? How can active transformations from an undesirable social-ecological state into a better one be orchestrated? That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the resilience challenge.

The resilience line of thinking helps us avoid the trap of simply rebuilding and repairing flawed structures of the past—be it an economic system overly reliant on risky speculation or a health-care system that splits a nation at its financial seams and yet fails to deliver adequate coverage. Resilience encourages us to anticipate, adapt, learn, and transform human actions in light of the unprecedented challenges of our turbulent world."

Resilience in design is how to handle complex systems that run normally in non-equilibrium states. It is not a solution for all types of complex systems.

In my opinion, resilient design is how to deal with complex systems in non-equilibrium only. To cope with co-evolving systems you have to join in the co-evolution.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Knowing Sooner

Knowing Sooner, Seed Magazine, 12/6/10

"By definition, complex systems—be they financial markets or weather patterns—contain too many moving parts to be reduced to any simple mathematical formula. It’s not just that we haven’t discovered an equation to express the behavior of the stock market; it’s that such an equation does not exist. Instead, researchers like Sornette construct and run computer models in order to gain insight into the potential behavior of these systems.

In developing these models, they have discovered that systems all share some surprisingly simple underlying properties. For instance, systems have the potential to change drastically in very short periods of time and often exhibit early warning signs that indicate when and how these changes will occur. These changes could be stock market crashes, tsunamis, heart attacks, or colony collapses, and in general are known as critical points. The theoretical properties of critical points have some profound—and often alarming—implications for real-world complex systems. In the case of climate change, when a critical level of greenhouse gas emissions is reached, it has been suggested that Earth’s climate may undergo rapid and irreversible changes. Identifying points like this one, and devising smart solutions to avoid the catastrophes they may bring, is critical.

To understand how phenomena like critical points come about in a system, consider a rock concert: A band has just finished its final encore, as a 60,000-plus crowd reacts in rapturous applause. The clapping begins as a cacophonous patter, eventually growing to a loud, chaotic roar. And then something interesting happens. Amid the noise, seemingly without effort or conscious guiding by the audience members, the applause evolves into a synchronized, steady rhythm; the claps become a single beat, with thousands of fans clapping in unison. Finally, it slows to a once again out-of-sync denouement, before abruptly ceasing altogether. The synchronized clapping emerges spontaneously in the crowd and is analogous to what is called a self-organizing property of a complex system, of which critical points are one example.

Sornette borrows this metaphor, originally articulated by Phillip Ball, to explain stock-market behavior. “A financial crash is not chaos. It’s when everyone agrees; it’s when everyone is clapping together,” he says. “So you have a synchronization of actions in the same way that clapping becomes synced.” The bubble in the Chinese stock market burst at just such a critical point. This is what Sornette claims to have predicted with his market model. According to him, what indicated that the financial bubble was going to burst was that the behavior of investors began oscillating, more and more wildly, between widespread buying and selling."

This is an interesting article but I'm not sure that I can believe it. Is it possible to know a future state of a complex system?

In general the answer is no. If you have the history of the the system you can look backwards and see how it got here, but you can't look forward. Even if you're observing the same system later and see the same pattern, you can't be sure that in the next instant the system will repeat what it did in the past.

If the system is as simple as the logistic map, the large pattern of behavior can be "predicted" but only if the initial conditions are exactly the same, a condition not possible in the real world.

For an r between about 3.57 and 4, its behavior is chaotic. if you had a system like this one, you might be able to tell when you were approaching that region of chaos.

The mention of heart rhythm is troubling as well. A healthy heart has a chaotic rhythm. An unhealthy heart has a less chaotic rhythm. Breathing has similar characteristics. See secrets of the heart. Mechanical breathing systems work better when chaos is introduced.

I'm just afraid that we keep trying to find simple solutions to complex problems.

On Closing the Culture Gap

Paul Ehrlich, Seed Magazine, 2/9/11, 2/9/11

"Many are aware that climate disruption may cause horrendous problems, but few seem to realize that this peril is not the only potentially catastrophic one and may not even be the most serious threat we face. Humanity finds itself in a desperate situation, but you’d never know it from listening to the media and the politicians. Loss of the biodiversity that runs human life-support systems, toxification of the planet, the risk of pandemics that increase in lockstep with population growth, and the possibility of nuclear resource wars all could be more lethal. We are finally, however, starting to understand the patterns of culture change and the role of natural selection in shaping them. And since everything from weapons of mass destruction to global heating is the result of changes in human culture over time, acquiring a fundamental understanding of cultural evolution just might be the key to saving civilization from itself."

"That’s why a group of natural scientists, social scientists, and scholars from the humanities decided to inaugurate a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB, pronounced “mob”). It was so named to emphasize that it is human behavior, toward one another and toward the ecosystems that sustain us all, that requires both better understanding and rapid modification. The idea is that the MAHB might become a basic mechanism to expose society to the full range of population-environment-resource-ethics-power issues, and sponsor research on how to turn that knowledge into the required actions. Perhaps most important, the MAHB would stimulate a broad global discussion involving the greatest possible diversity of people, about what people desire, the ethics of those desires, and which are possible to meet in a sustainable society. It would, I hope, serve as a major tool for altering the course of cultural evolution."


The Top 20 (Plus 5) Technologies for the World Ahead

For those of you following my writing you know that I am very interested in complexity. It was nice to see in this article, published in The Futurist,May - June 2011 written by James Irvin and Sandra Schwarzback, highlighting complexity as a technology and listing it as number 19:

"19 Chaos Theories and Complexity Models

Our world is much more complex, interconnected, and dynamic than we once thought. New mathematical concepts are challenging the rationalized, deterministic, scientific models of the Industrial Age. The Industrial Age paradigm held that there is one best way to organize a given thing and that in all cases, a given “rational” outcome is predetermined by nature. The new scientific paradigm will ultimately replace this older mentality. The new Information Age is being driven by applied technology and by two major advances in theoretical science that are altering our view of how the world works: an ecological/ ecosystem model, which supports ecological and environmental diversity, and modern chaos and complexity theories, which emphasize unpredictability, self-organizing systems, and the coexistence of the linear and the random. In the near term, this paradigm shift will significantly change people's views of society, of themselves in relation to society, and of how the world and the greater universe work."

This is a pretty good summary of the importance of the subject (although they get the terminology twisted up).

There were two other things in this article that caught my attention. The first is the way that they describe graphically paradigm revolution as shown below:

I've been drawing this s-curve type of progress this was since the early 1990s and I haven't seen it shown this way at all. I'm speaking about the step down from an old to a new paradigm.

I'm not at all sure about their description of the future as the Robotic - Biotech Age. I would look for a name closer to the technology of the means production that is coming and I think that that has to be nano technology. My second choice would be something in the energy field, but I don't see any thing right now that would revolutionize energy.

Their chart is interesting never-the-less: