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flaneur musings by teodor mitew Posts

The collapse of complex systems

There is a lot to be said for the inevitability of a complex system’s collapse, starting from the second law of thermodynamics, going through the costs of rising complexity usually purchased at the expense of system stability, and ending with the crucial point where a system’s capacity to adapt to a changing environment fizzles out precisely because of the need for stability.  This inevitability seems to hold true for all kinds of complex systems, from bio-ecologies, to organizational models and societies. Couple of fascinating posts on this:

In his  The Collapse of Complex Business Models, Clay Shirky makes an interesting argument on the future of the current business model of media production. Basing on Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies, and using as an example TV companies, Shirky argues that the active participants of complex systems are at the end simply unable to integrate a new rule-set into the complex structure of the system, therefore causing the at first paradoxical situation where ‘the most powerful/connected/etc’ are the least capable of innovating to survive. As a media company how do you compete with content such as  Charlie bit my finger when your content production costs are astronomical by comparison, and you cannot afford to lower them if you want to remain in existence as an organisation? The answer is – you can’t. Which comes a long way in explaining Murdoch’s desperate attempts to shore up the defenses and patch up the walls of his crumbling empire.

John Robb’s The Simplification of Complex Societies takes that argument to the complexity of the present global society, and unsurprisingly concludes that collapse is imminent, albeit with the caveat that there is a way out, as pointed by China’s successful transition from Maoist barbarity by allowing totally unregulated innovation at its societal periphery (arguably the largest and most successful peasant revolution in human history).  While predicting the imminent  collapse of capitalism is a hobby century-and-a-half old, there is a lot to be said about the growing layers of complexity involved in international governance, financial and otherwise. Plenty to ponder.

Barcelona vs Arsenal

I am still in mild shock after watching that game… Barcelona produced probably the best football ever in the first half, a truly enchanting performance. I am reminded of Marcelo Bielsa‘s famous words:

“Totally mechanised teams are useless because they get lost when they lose their script. But I don’t like either ones that live only on the inspiration of their soloists, because when God doesn’t turn them on, they are left totally at the mercy of their opponents.”

The thing with Barcelona is that they have struck the golden balance between the background hum of the tiki-taka system (4-3-3) and the dizzying virtuosity of the soloist (Messi).

The tiki-taka:

Some more tiki-taka:

China links

Interesting perspectives on China, Pettis is a professor and Beijing University, and Roach is the Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.

China is misread by bulls and bears alike, by Michael Pettis, FT.com

“Will China collapse? No. It may have a painful financial contraction, but this will not necessarily lead to a collapse in growth. Instead it will grind away at its overinvestment and excess capacity, which, with a reversal of the favourable demographics enjoyed since the mid-1970s, will slow growth sharply, but this will coincide with three more favourable circumstances.

First, China will continue to urbanise rapidly, which will raise household income and create new sources of growth. Second, even as the workforce declines, increased education and infrastructure spending will raise worker productivity. Third, a sharp contraction will force Beijing finally to liberalise the financial system and transfer resources from the inefficient state sector to small and medium enterprises, increasing productivity.”

Blaming China will not solve America’s problem, by Stephen Roach, FT.com

“The US would be far better served if it faced up to why it is confronted with a massive multilateral trade deficit. America’s core economic problem is saving, not China. In 2009, the broadest measure of domestic US saving – the net national saving rate – fell to a record low of -2.5 per cent of national income. That means America must import surplus saving from abroad to fund its future growth – and run current account and trade deficits to attract the foreign capital. Thus, for a savings-short economy, there is no escaping large multilateral trade imbalances.”

As usual, the devil is in the details, and the more uncomfortable the details – the bigger the devil.

John Battelle: My Location Is A Box of Cereal

John Battelle’s Signal Weds: My Location Is A Box of Cereal on location based services.

““Where I am” is a powerful signal, in particular if where you are is a local business that might answer that signal with an offer that engenders loyalty, purchase, or both.

But I’m starting to think that we need to expand the concept of location to more than physical spaces. Why can’t I check-in to a website? An article? A state of mind? An emotion? Or…an object?”

Tim O’Reilly: The State of the Internet Operating System

Just went though Tim O’Reilly’s The State of the Internet Operating System. Fascinating, thought-provoking, directly related to what I am working on regarding ambient socio-digital systems (ASDS). Key bits:

“What mobile app (other than casual games) exists solely on the phone? Virtually every application is a network application, relying on remote services to perform its function. Where is the “operating system” in all this? Clearly, it is still evolving. Applications use a hodgepodge of services from multiple different providers to get the information they need.”

“We are once again approaching the point at which the Faustian bargain will be made: simply use our facilities, and the complexity will go away. And much as happened during the 1980s, there is more than one company making that promise. We’re entering a modern version of “the Great Game”, the rivalry to control the narrow passes to the promised future of computing. “

“The underlying services accessed by applications today are not just device components and operating system features, but data subsystems: locations, social networks, indexes of web sites, speech recognition, image recognition, automated translation. It’s easy to think that it’s the sensors in your device – the touch screen, the microphone, the GPS, the magnetometer, the accelerometer – that are enabling their cool new functionality. But really, these sensors are just inputs to massive data subsystems living in the cloud.”

“Location is the sine-qua-non of mobile apps. When your phone knows where you are, it can find your friends, find services nearby, and even better authenticate a transaction.”

“Where is the memory management?”

Location, time, and emotive attachments (intensity) are the key vectors he identifies, and I agree. A fascinating problem is the management of a locally-cached memory-shadow. All in all, plenty to think of.