Post Tagged with: "complexity"

A New Theory of Everything

A New Theory of Everything

Technology Review covers Stuart Kauffman‘s work to find a mathematical model for autocatalytic sets, the process by which life may emerge from molecules:

What makes the approach so powerful is that the mathematics does not depend on the nature of chemistry–it is substrate independent. So the building blocks in an autocatalytic set need not be molecules at all but any units that can manipulate other units in the required way.

These units can be complex entities in themselves. “Perhaps it is not too far-fetched to think, for example, of the collection of bacterial species in your gut (several hundreds of them) as one big autocatalytic set,” say Kauffman and co.

And they go even further. They point out that the economy is essentially the process of transforming raw materials into products such as hammers and spades that themselves facilitate further transformation of raw materials and so on. “Perhaps we can also view the economy as an (emergent) autocatalytic set, exhibiting some sort of functional closure,” they speculate.

Could it be that the same idea–the general theory of autocatalytic sets–can help explain the origin of life, the nature of emergence and provide a mathematical foundation for organisation in economics?

Full Story: MIT Technology Review: The Single Theory That Could Explain Emergence, Organisation And The Origin of Life

(via Social Physicist)

I find this very interesting, but don’t get too excited. These sorts of grand unification theories are extremely elusive. I’m also skeptical of these sorts of models which try to find universal rules for all types of systems.

See also:

Social Physics with Kyle Findlay

Guest Post: Some resources for thinking about systems

May 12, 2012 0 comments
Some Bees Are “Thrill Seekers” – Does That Mean Insects Have Personalities?

Some Bees Are “Thrill Seekers” – Does That Mean Insects Have Personalities?

From Wired UK:

The researchers found that thrill-seeking is not limited to humans and other vertebrates. The brains of honeybees that were more likely than others to seek adventure exhibited distinct patterns of gene activity in molecular pathways known to be associated with thrill-seeking in humans.

The findings present a new perspective on honeybee communities, which were thought to be highly-regimented and comprised of a colony of interchangeable workers taking on a few specific roles to serve their queen. [...]

Robinson and his team studies two behaviors that looked like novelty seeking: scouting for new nest sites and scouting for food. When a colony outgrows its living quarters, the swarm must hunt for a new home. Around five percent of the swarm goes hunting for new lodgings. These “nest scouts” are around 3.4 times more likely than their peers to also become food scouts, researchers discovered.

“There is a gold standard for personality research and that is if you show the same tendency in different contexts, then that can be called a personality trait,” Robinson said.

Wired Science: Honeybees May Have Personality

(via James Governor)

Photo by Gilles San Martin

March 9, 2012 0 comments
Nassim Taleb Interview on His New Book Anti-Fragility

Nassim Taleb Interview on His New Book Anti-Fragility

Nassim Taleb

Great new interview with Nassim Taleb by one of his former teachers at Wharton:

Taleb: The events in the Middle East are not black swans. They were predictable to those who know the region well. At most, they were gray swans or perhaps white swans. One of the lessons of “Wild vs. Mild Randomness,” my chapter with Benoit Mandelbrot in your book, is what happens before you go into a period of wild randomness. You will find a long quiet period that is punctuated with absolute total turmoil…. In The Black Swan, I discussed Saudi Arabia as a prime case of the calm before the storm and the Great Moderation [the perceived end of economic volatility due to the creation of 20th century banking laws] in the same breath. I was comparing Italy with Saudi Arabia. Italy is an example of mild randomness in comparison with Saudi Arabia and Syria, which are examples of wild randomness. Italy has had 60 changes in regime in the post-war era, but they are inconsequential…. It is a prime example of noise. It’s very Italian and so it’s elegant noise, but it’s noise nonetheless. In contrast, Saudi Arabia and Syria have had the same regime in place for 40 some years. You may think it is stability, but it’s not. Once you remove the lid, the thing explodes.

The same kind of thing happens in finance. Take the portfolio of banks. The environment seemed very placid — the Great Moderation — and then the thing explodes.

Herring: I would agree that people knew the Middle East was very vulnerable to turmoil because of the demographics, a very young population, and widespread unemployment, the dissatisfaction with the distribution of income and with regimes that were getting geriatric. But knowing how it would unfold and knowing that somebody immolating themselves in a market in Tunisia would lead to this widespread discontent — and we still don’t know how it will end — is a really remarkable occurrence that I think would be very difficult to predict in any way.

Taleb: Definitely, and it actually taught us to try not to predict the catalyst, which is the most foolish thing in the world, but to try to identify areas of vulnerability. [It's] like saying a bridge is fragile. I can’t predict which truck is going to break it, so I have to look at it more in a structural form — what physicists call the percolation approach. You study the terrain. You don’t study the components. You see in finance, we study the random walk. Physicists study percolation. They study the terrain — not a drunk person walking around — but the evolution of the terrain itself. Everything is dynamic. That is percolation.

And then you learn not to try to predict which truck is going to break that bridge. But you just look at bridges and say, “Oh, this bridge doesn’t have a great foundation. This other one does. And this one needs to be reinforced.” We can do a lot with the notion of robustness.

Wharton: Nassim Taleb on Living with Black Swans

(via Chris Arkenberg)

May 14, 2011 1 comment
Otomata – Flash-based Cellular Automata Music Sequencer

Otomata – Flash-based Cellular Automata Music Sequencer


April 17, 2011 8 comments
Predicting the Future with Twitter

Predicting the Future with Twitter

predicting the future with the news

The New York Times reports:

The number-crunchers on Wall Street are starting to crunch something else: the news.

Math-loving traders are using powerful computers to speed-read news reports, editorials, company Web sites, blog posts and even Twitter messages — and then letting the machines decide what it all means for the markets.

The development goes far beyond standard digital fare like most-read and e-mailed lists. In some cases, the computers are actually parsing writers’ words, sentence structure, even the odd emoticon. A wink and a smile — ;) — for instance, just might mean things are looking up for the markets. Then, often without human intervention, the programs are interpreting that news and trading on it.

New York Times: Computers That Trade on the News

And Bloomberg reports:

Derwent Capital Markets, a family- owned hedge fund, will offer investors the chance to use Twitter Inc. posts to gauge the mood of the stockmarket, said co-owner Paul Hawtin.

The Derwent Absolute Return Fund Ltd., set to start trading in February with an initial 25 million pounds ($39 million) under management, will follow posts on the social-networking website. A trading model will highlight when the number of times words on Twitter such as “calm” rise above or below average.

Bloomberg: Hedge Fund Will Track Twitter to Predict Stock Moves

See also:

Sentiment analysis

Technical analysis

December 30, 2010 1 comment
Lost Alan Moore Comic: Big Numbers # 3

Lost Alan Moore Comic: Big Numbers # 3

Big Numbers 3

I dug ever so slightly deeper into why I love the Master, the Alan Moore archive site I mentioned recently, and found another rare gem: the long lost Big Numbers # 3. It’s actually been up since March, 2009 – I don’t know this has escaped me for so long.

After Bill Sienkiewicz quit Big Numbers after completing two issues and beginning a third, Tundra hired Sienkiewicz’s assistant Al Columbia to complete the project. Columbia finished issue 3 and part of issue 4, but then, well, something happened. Issues 3 & 4was long thought destroyed, but it turns out that photocopies of 3 surfaced on eBay last year and are now available for your reading pleasure, with the blessing of Moore (but not necessarily Columbia and Sienkiewicz).

Big Numbers # 3

Our Alan Moore dossier

November 4, 2010 0 comments
Bees Can Solve the “‘Travelling Salesman Problem”

Bees Can Solve the “‘Travelling Salesman Problem”


What’s interesting is that this doesn’t seem to be a result of “swarm intelligence” – individual bees can somehow make these calculations:

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the ‘Travelling Salesman Problem’, and these are the first animals found to do this.

The Travelling Salesman must find the shortest route that allows him to visit all locations on his route. Computers solve it by comparing the length of all possible routes and choosing the shortest. However, bees solve it without computer assistance using a brain the size of grass seed. [...]

Co-author and Queen Mary colleague, Dr. Mathieu Lihoreau adds: “There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers. There is an urgent need to understand the neuronal hardware underpinning animal intelligence, and relatively simple nervous systems such as those of insects make this mystery more tractable.”

PhysOrg: – Bumblebees can find the solution to a complex mathematical problem which keeps computers busy for days

(via Fadereu)

October 27, 2010 2 comments
Can Consciousness be Measured Using Information Theory?

Can Consciousness be Measured Using Information Theory?

measuring consciousness

But Dr. Tononi’s theory is, potentially, very different. He and his colleagues are translating the poetry of our conscious experiences into the precise language of mathematics. To do so, they are adapting information theory, a branch of science originally applied to computers and telecommunications. If Dr. Tononi is right, he and his colleagues may be able to build a “consciousness meter” that doctors can use to measure consciousness as easily as they measure blood pressure and body temperature. [...]

For the past decade, Dr. Tononi and his colleagues have been expanding traditional information theory in order to analyze integrated information. It is possible, they have shown, to calculate how much integrated information there is in a network. Dr. Tononi has dubbed this quantity phi, and he has studied it in simple networks made up of just a few interconnected parts. How the parts of a network are wired together has a big effect on phi. If a network is made up of isolated parts, phi is low, because the parts cannot share information.

But simply linking all the parts in every possible way does not raise phi much. “It’s either all on, or all off,” Dr. Tononi said. In effect, the network becomes one giant photodiode.

Networks gain the highest phi possible if their parts are organized into separate clusters, which are then joined. “What you need are specialists who talk to each other, so they can behave as a whole,” Dr. Tononi said. He does not think it is a coincidence that the brain’s organization obeys this phi-raising principle.

New York Times: Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits

(Thanks Bill!)

October 1, 2010 0 comments
3 Best University Majors According to Microsoft

3 Best University Majors According to Microsoft

Artificial intelligence

These are the areas of concentration Microsoft is most in need of right now, according to its jobs blog:

Data Mining/Machine Learning/AI/Natural Language Processing

Business Intelligence/Competitive Intelligence

Analytics/Statistics – specifically Web Analytics, A/B Testing and statistical analysis

Microsoft Careers Jobs Blog: The Top Three hottest new majors for a career in technology

No surprises there. See “The Coming Data Explosion” for more on the subject of big data.

(via Don)

Update: See also: The Big Data Explosion and the Demand for the Statistical Tools to Analyze It “If The Graduate were remade today, the advice to young Benjamin Braddock might be ‘just one word… statistics.’”

August 31, 2010 0 comments
Making brains: Reverse engineering the human brain to achieve AI

Making brains: Reverse engineering the human brain to achieve AI


An introduction to the concepts and problems with reverse engineering the human brain:

The ongoing debate between PZ Myers and Ray Kurzweil about reverse engineering the human brain is fairly representative of the same debate that’s been going in futurist circles for quite some time now. And as the Myers/Kurzweil conversation attests, there is little consensus on the best way for us to achieve human-equivalent AI.

That said, I have noticed an increasing interest in the whole brain emulation (WBE) approach. Kurzweil’s upcoming book, How the Mind Works and How to Build One, is a good example of this—but hardly the only one. Futurists with a neuroscientific bent have been advocating this approach for years now, most prominently by the European transhumanist camp headed by Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg.

While I believe that reverse engineering the human brain is the right approach, I admit that it’s not going to be easy. Nor is it going to be quick. This will be a multi-disciplinary endeavor that will require decades of data collection and the use of technologies that don’t exist yet. And importantly, success won’t come about all at once. This will be an incremental process in which individual developments will provide the foundation for overcoming the next conceptual hurdle.

Sentient Developments: Making brains: Reverse engineering the human brain to achieve AI

August 25, 2010 0 comments