TransVision 2010 Presentation by Danila Medvedev
INCREASING COMPLEXITY IN THE MANAGEMENT OF THE WORLD
The human world is becoming more complex, catching up with the natural world. Our skills at management also improve at an exponential rate. Management lies at the core of any human activity and every day more resources are allocated towards management. Will we be able to achieve perfect harmony in the world through management? Or will the complexity overcome any our attempts at it?
Examples of complex systems
Some examples of complex systems that everyone is familiar with are:
- Global climate
- Global economy, including ﬁnancial markets
- Any business, particularly sales and marketing (coming hurricanes include sales of Strawberry Pop-Tarts in Florida Walmarts; http://www.hurricaneville.com/pop_tarts.html)
- Any models in accounting, inventory management, marketing, sales forecasting, and ﬁnancial analysis whatsoever (http://www.information-management.com/specialreports/20050215/1019956-1.html)
- Delays in railway systems (ftp://ftp.inf.ethz.ch/pub/publications/tech-reports/4xx/456.pdf)
- Society in general
Examples of large systems under human management are large companies (Russian Railroads has 1 mln people) and countries (China has 1 bln people).
Two problems with complexity
There are two problems with complexity – it’s more difﬁcult to predict what complex systems will do and more difﬁcult to affect them. Prediction often involves mathematical modelling and there clear limits to that (PNP, stopping theorem, Wolfram’s complexity). Affecting the systems involves analysing all possible interventions and choosing between them. These two types of problems form parts of a decision tree.
Solutions and tools
Managing complex systems can be seen as a cross between art and science. It can’t be fully formalized almost by deﬁnition. Mathematically it’s exempliﬁed by NP complexity. We can use various methods of the theory of management decisions. We can make systems easier to manage by creating hierarchies (hiding the complexity within layers). We can create self-managing systems, including networks and markets (two examples of using emerging self-management in certain kinds of systems). We can make it easier to predict the behaviour of complex systems by inﬂuencing or controlling them, in effect substituting simplicity for freedom.
Alternatively we can rely on diversity to increase reliability or make sure some good systems emerge. Finally, over investing in something (creating reserves of any kind) always makes things easier to some extent.
Even as early as in 1953 there where ideas about using analogue computations in making business decisions (http://www.jstor.org/pss/166584). Technologies for managing complex systems become more accessible every year. They include information and communication systems, expert systems, etc.
There are more possibilities to manage complex systems, but the world is also becoming more complex. Also, the actions necessary to execute an intervention are becoming more complex – from pressing a button to writing a program to creating an entire automated system.
The growing complexity of required calculations also contributes. It might be that required actions will end up being too complex for management to occur.
Long term consequences
Planned economy is an application of management to complex systems. There are examples, which have achieved substantial results. Upgrades such as the Chilean Project Cybersyn were developed. Modern ERP systems bear some relation, but are less ambitious and less universal.
Isaac Asimov proposed the idea of “psychohistory”, a science of predicting actions of huge numbers of people. There are other similar ﬁctional ideas (including in Nik Gorkavy “Astrovityanka” series), stories about organizations practicing regular interventions (again we see two types of problems!), and even real organizations developing similar methods.
Genrih Altshuller has proposed an idea of a Nonnatural artiﬁcial world, a transhumanist concept that assumes the need for humans to develop sufﬁciently complex systems to replace nature.
In the very long term the issue of humanity’s survival is possibly the most complex problem, from operating our “planet” to managing existential risks to solving “The Last Question” (Asimov again).
|Danila Medvedev is a Russian futurologist (specializing in the science and future of Russia), a politician and a member of coordination council of the Russian Transhumanistic Movement. He is also one of founders and the general director of KrioRus (since May, 2005), the first cryonics company outside of the United States. Since August 2008 he works as a Chief Planning Officer and a Vice-President of the “Science for Life Extension” Foundation in Moscow, Russia. See the Interview with Danila Medvedev by Sky News.|
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