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From Simplicity to Complexity

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The Houw Liong:
In a complex world, cooperation, collaboration, discussion, evidence, and diversity become the pillars upon which we build society. The free exchange of ideas, the rigorous pursuit of knowledge, and the maturity that comes with abandoning simplicity, ideology, and prejudice lead us toward a better world for everyone. This is the wish of all of our political parties.

In recent weeks we have seen complexity cast aside, and national and economic simplicity pursued without debate, with scant consideration for the human and institutional repercussions that this will produce.

Over the last 30 years the Santa Fe Institute has helped to build tools and theories, train students, faculty, and representatives from numerous companies around the world, and confront and deal with seemingly insurmountable complexity — from economic collapse to the devastation of global pandemics.

If there is one thing we have learned, it is that however hard we try, complexity does not go away and we ignore it at our peril.

Let’s face up to truly threatening challenges, and come together to solve the hardest problems that endanger the Earth itself: economic inequality, market catastrophes, antibiotic resistance, spiraling technological instabilities, cascading conflicts, and the numerous challenges of global population, energy, and climate.

There is only one Earth and we shall never improve it by acting as if life upon it were simple. Complex systems will not allow it.

 

David Krakauer
President and William H. Miller Professor of Complex Systems
Santa Fe Institute

The Houw Liong:
The top four solutions each took unique approaches to the Challenge. Mehta says his background in mathematical biology likely influenced his decision to consider organic autonomous things like people and animals as they move through a common space. Zuo initially drew on literature regarding pedestrian dynamics before building an agent-based model. Straka started with an assumption that the challenge referred to autonomous vehicles, but also considered surface growth dynamics to create a solution. Badgley also imagined an autonomous vehicle scenario and used agent-based modeling to create a solution using "extremely simple measures of efficiency." Badgley's solution was ranked first in peer and mentor selection and Miller's ranking placed hers and Straka's solution as the top two.

Though she is employed by the partner institution, Badgley says she had no idea who was behind the Challenge initially and completed the challenge outside of work. "I decided to take part in the challenge with absolutely no thought of "winning," but primarily to give myself an excuse to dive into an interesting complexity problem, explore some new tools and techniques, and help SFI refine this program further," says Badgley, who was a 2016 Complex Systems Summer School student. Badgley declined any award due to her employment at MITRE. 

Straka, also a 2016 CSSS student, enjoyed melding his background in theoretical physics with other disciplines during this Challenge. "It gave me the perfect occasion to relive the Santa Fe approach: take a problem, and play with it. Look at it from different angles, consider different approaches, search for parallels to other systems. And above all: have fun," he says.

Complexity Challenges bring benefits to all involved, says Gabby Beans, SFI’s Program Manager for Online Education. “For the ACtioN members, we’re hoping they get some creative solutions,” she says. “For the students, along with the unique learning opportunity, we’re also hoping to showcase their talents to potential employers.”

In the future, Complexity Challenges may form the basis of capstone projects for online certificate or degree programs offered by SFI, she says.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much book-learning you have or how many problem-sets you solve,” says Miller. “Creative, interdisciplinary complex systems thinking is best tested when applied to the real world.”

More at https://www.complexityexplorer.org/challenges.

Watch the video, "The Inaugural Complexity Challenge: Inspiration and Results." (13:11)

 

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