News items

Authors

  • Carlos Gershenson


WORLD POPULATION IN 2050

The following news item is taken in part from the July 27, 2011 issue of Science titled “9 Billion?,” by Leslie Roberts.

In 1900, there were 1.6 billion people on earth. By 2000, that number had skyrocketed to 6.1 billion. This astounding rate of growth has slowed, but the trend is still heading dramatically upward. It varies substantially by region, however, with the less developed countries growing rapidly and the more developed countries growing slowly, if at all. World population is expected to pass 7 billion in late October and is projected to top 9 billion by 2050. (…)

A link to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.333.6042.540.

THE PREVALENCE OF CHRONIC DISEASE

The following news item is taken in part from the July 29, 2011 issue of Science titled “A World of Chronic Disease,” by Sara Reardon.

(…) cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases like asthma now kill more people worldwide than all other causes combined. And the trend will only accelerate as the global population ages and sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy food become more common around the world.

A link to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.333.6042.558.

CITIES, PRODUCTIVITY, AND QUALITY OF LIFE

The following news item is taken in part from the July 29, 2011 issue of Science titled “Cities, Productivity, and Quality of Life,” by Edward Glaeser.

The tight correlation between urbanization and economic development throughout the world reflects a global transition from poverty to prosperity. However, urban density also brings enormous challenges, including crime, congestion, and contagious disease, and these challenges are being poorly met by many of the governments of the developing world. Some look at the problems of the developing world's megacities and think that things would be better if their residents just remained in rural areas, but there is little upside in rural poverty. To ensure that the world's cities are going to be places of pleasure, as well as places of productivity, they need governments that can do a better job of providing the basics of city living: clean water, safe neighborhoods, and fluid streets.

A link to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1209264.

CHALLENGES OF SYNTHETIC LIFE

The following news item is taken in part from the August 5, 2011 issue of Systems and Synthetic Biology titled “The ten grand challenges of synthetic life,” by Manuel Porcar, Antoine Danchin, Victor de Lorenzo, Vitor A. dos Santos, Natalio Krasnogor, Steen Rasmussen, and Andrés Moya.

The construction of artificial life is one of the main scientific challenges of the Synthetic Biology era. Advances in DNA synthesis and a better understanding of regulatory processes make the goal of constructing the first artificial cell a realistic possibility. This would be both a fundamental scientific milestone and a starting point of a vast range of applications, from biofuel production to drug design. However, several major issues might hamper the objective of achieving an artificial cell. From the bottom-up to the selection-based strategies, this work encompasses the ten grand challenges; synthetic biologists will have to be aware of to cope with the task of creating life in the lab.

A link to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11693-011-9084-5.

SWARM DYNAMICS ON NETWORKS

The following news item is taken in part from the July, 2011 issue of New J. Phys titled “Adaptive-network models of swarm dynamics,” by Cristián Huepe, Gerd Zschaler, Anne-Ly Do, and Thilo Gross.

We propose a simple adaptive-network model describing recent swarming experiments. Exploiting an analogy with human decision making, we capture the dynamics of the model using a low-dimensional system of equations permitting analytical investigation. We find that the model reproduces several characteristic features of swarms, including spontaneous symmetry breaking, noise- and density-driven order–disorder transitions that can be of first or second order, and intermittency. Reproducing these experimental observations using a non-spatial model suggests that spatial geometry may have less of an impact on collective motion than previously thought.

A link to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1367-2630/13/7/073022.

FOOD CRISES AND POLITICAL INSTABILITY

The following news item is taken in part from the August 11, 2011 issue of arXiv titled “The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East,” by Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, and Yaneer Bar-Yam.

Social unrest may reflect a variety of factors such as poverty, unemployment, and social injustice. Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food prices. We identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely (…). Underlying the food price peaks we also find an ongoing trend of increasing prices. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012–2013. This implies that avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action.

A link to this article can be found at http://arXiv.org/abs/1108.2455.

PHILOSOPHY AND COMPUTATIONAL COMPLEXITY

The following news item is taken in part from the August 14, 2011 issue of arXiv titled “Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity,” by Scott Aaronson.

One might think that, once we know something is computable, how efficiently it can be computed is a practical question with little further philosophical importance. In this essay, I offer a detailed case that one would be wrong. In particular, I argue that computational complexity theory—the field that studies the resources (such as time, space, and randomness) needed to solve computational problems—leads to new perspectives on the nature of mathematical knowledge, the strong AI debate, computationalism, the problem of logical omniscience, Hume's problem of induction, Goodman's grue riddle, the foundations of quantum mechanics, economic rationality, closed time-like curves, and several other topics of philosophical interest. I end by discussing aspects of complexity theory itself that could benefit from philosophical analysis.

A link to this article can be found at http://arXiv.org/abs/1108.1791.

TEMPORAL NETWORKS

The following news item is taken in part from the August 8, 2011 issue of arXiv titled “Temporal Networks,” by Petter Holme and Jari Saramäki.

A great variety of systems in nature, society, and technology can be modeled as graphs of vertices coupled by edges. The network structure, describing how the graph is wired, helps us understand, predict, and optimize the behavior of dynamic systems. In many cases, however, the edges are not continuously active. As an example, in networks of communication via email, text messages, or phone calls, edges represent sequences of instantaneous or practically instantaneous contacts. (…)

A link to this article can be found at http://arXiv.org/abs/1108.1780.

A KNOWLEDGE ACCELERATOR

The following news item is taken in part from the August 31, 2011 issue of arXiv titled “FuturICT – A Knowledge Accelerator to Explore and Manage Our Future in a Strongly Connected World,” by Dirk Helbing.

We have built particle accelerators to understand the forces that make up our physical world. But we still do not understand the principles underlying our strongly connected, techno-socio-economic systems. To fill the knowledge gaps and keep up with the fast pace at which our world is changing, a knowledge accelerator must be urgently created. This 21st century challenge will be addressed by the FuturICT Flagship project. We envision that, after the age of physical, biological, and technological innovations, Europe can lead the next era – a wave of social and socio-inspired innovations.

A link to this article can be found at http://arXiv.org/abs/1108.6131.

ARE THERE LAWS OF GENOME EVOLUTION?

The following news item is taken in part from the August 25, 2011 issue of PLoS Comput Biol titled “Are There Laws of Genome Evolution?,” by Eugene V. Koonin.

The universals of genome evolution can be accounted for by simple mathematical models similar to those used in statistical physics, such as the birth-death-innovation model. These models do not explicitly incorporate selection; therefore, the observed universal regularities do not appear to be shaped by selection but rather are emergent properties of gene ensembles. Although a complete physical theory of evolutionary biology is inconceivable, the universals of genome evolution might qualify as “laws of evolutionary genomics” in the same sense “law” is understood in modern physics.

A link to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002173.

COMPLEXITY

The following news item is taken in part from the August 31, 2011 issue of arXiv titled “Complexity,” by Carlos Gershenson.

The term complexity derives etymologically from the Latin plexus, which means interwoven. Intuitively, this implies that something complex is composed by elements that are difficult to separate. This difficulty arises from the relevant interactions that take place between components. This lack of separability is at odds with the classical scientific method – which has been used since the times of Galileo, Newton, Descartes, and Laplace – and has also influenced philosophy and engineering. In recent decades, the scientific study of complexity and complex systems has proposed a paradigm shift in science and philosophy, proposing novel methods that take into account relevant interactions.

A link to this article can be found at http://arXiv.org/abs/1109.0214.

MANAGING COMPLEX ORGANIZATIONS

The following news item is taken in part from the September, 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review titled “Learning to Live with Complexity,” by Gökçe Sargut and Rita Gunther McGrath.

Complex organizations are far more difficult to manage than merely complicated ones. It iss harder to predict what will happen, because complex systems interact in unexpected ways. It is harder to make sense of things, because the degree of complexity may lie beyond our cognitive limits. And it is harder to place bets, because the past behavior of a complex system may not predict its future behavior. In a complex system the outlier is often more significant than the average.

A link to this article can be found at http://hbr.org/2011/09/learning-to-live-with-complexity/ar/1.

A GEOMETRIC APPROACH TO COMPLEXITY

The following news item is taken in part from the August, 2011 issue of SFI Working Papers titled “A Geometric Approach to Complexity,” by Nihat Ay, Eckehard Olbrich, Nils Bertschinger, and Jürgen Jost.

We develop a geometric approach to complexity based on the principle that complexity requires interactions at different scales of description. Complex systems are more than the sum of their parts of any size, and not just more than the sum of their elements. Using information geometry, we therefore analyze the decomposition of a system in terms of an interaction hierarchy. In mathematical terms, we present a theory of complexity measures for finite random fields using the geometric framework of hierarchies of exponential families. Within our framework, previously proposed complexity measures find their natural place and gain a new interpretation.

A link to this article can be found at http://www.santafe.edu/research/working-papers/abstract/a729021273bbd 2aef54459f7d25ce07e/.

TEN OPEN QUESTIONS IN CHEMISTRY

The following news item is taken in part from the October, 2011 issue of Scientific American titled “10 Unsolved Mysteries,” by Philip Ball.

  • 1How did life begin?
  • 2How do molecules form?
  • 3How does the environment influence our genes?
  • 4How does the brain think and form memories?
  • 5How many elements exist?
  • 6Can computers be made out of carbon?
  • 7How do we tap more solar energy?
  • 8What is the best way to make biofuels?
  • 9Can we devise new ways to create drugs?
  • 10Can we continuously monitor our own chemistry?

A link to this article can be found at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=10-unsolved-mysteries.

NATURALIZING INFORMATION

The following news item is taken in part from the September 4, 2011 issue of Information titled “Naturalizing Information,” by Stanley N. Salthe.

Certain definitions of information can be seen to be compatible with each other if their relationships are properly understood as referring to different levels of organization in a subsumptive hierarchy. The resulting hierarchy, with thermodynamics subsuming information theory, and that in turn subsuming semiotics, amounts to a naturalizing of the information concept.

A link to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/info2030417.

CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENTS

Evostar – the main european events on evolutionary computation eurogp, evocop, evobio, evomusart, and evoapplications, Málaga, Spain, 2012/03/11-13 http://www.evostar.org/.

IWSOS′12 (Sixth International Workshop on Self-Organizing Systems), Delft, The Netherlands, 2012/03/15-16 http://iwsos2012.ewi.tudelft.nl/.

Collective Intelligence 2012, Cambridge, MA, USA, 2012/04/18-20 http://www.ci2012.org/.

ALife XIII: The Thirteenth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems, Lansig, Michigan, USA, 2012/08/19-22 http://alife13.org/.

ECCS′12: European Conference on Complex Systems, Brussels, Belgium, 2012/09/3-7 http://www.eccs2012.eu/.

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