Over the past 5 years, on behalf of state governments, nearly 100,000 Americans were gently manipulated by a team of social scientists. In 15 randomized, controlled trials, people in need of social services either encountered the standard application process or received a psychological nudge, in which the information was presented slightly differently—a postcard reminded them of deadlines, for example, or one choice was made easier than another. In 11 of the trials, the nudge modestly increased a person's response rate or influenced them to make financially smarter choices. The results, presented this week at a meeting in Chicago, add to the growing evidence that nudges developed by psychologists can make a real difference in the success of government programs.
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Henry David Thoreau exhorted in his 1854 memoir Walden, in which he extolled the virtues of a “Spartan-like” life. Saint Thomas Aquinas preached that simplicity brings one closer to God. Isaac Newton believed it leads to truth. The process of simplification, we’re told, can illuminate beauty, strip away needless clutter and stress, and help us focus on what really matters.
It can also be a sign of aging. Youthful health and vigor depend, in many ways, on complexity. Bones get strength from elaborate scaffolds of connective tissue. Mental acuity arises from interconnected webs of neurons. Even seemingly simple bodily functions like heartbeat rely on interacting networks of metabolic controls, signaling pathways, genetic switches, and circadian rhythms. As our bodies age, these anatomic structures and physiologic processes lose complexity, making them less resilient and ultimately leading to frailty and disease.
The origin of life means the emergence of heritable and evolvable self-reproduction. However the mechanisms of primordial heredity were different from those in contemporary cells. Here I argue that primordial life had no nucleic acids; instead heritable signs were represented by isolated catalytically active self-reproducing molecules, similar to extant coenzymes, which presumably colonized surfaces of oil droplets in water.
So will we ever be able to model something as complex as the human brain using computers? After all, biological systems use symmetry and interaction to do things that even the most powerful computers cannot do – like surviving, adapting and reproducing. This is one reason why binary logic often falls short of describing how living things or human intelligence work. But our new research suggests there are alternatives: by using the mathematics that describe biological networks in the computers of the future, we may be able to make them more complex and similar to living systems like the brain.
How the hidden mathematics of living cells could help us decipher the brain
Macroscopic behavior of scientific and societal systems results from the aggregation of microscopic behaviors of their constituent elements, but connecting the macroscopic with the microscopic in human behavior has traditionally been difficult. Manifestations of homophily, the notion that individuals tend to interact with others who resemble them, have been observed in many small and intermediate size settings. However, whether this behavior translates to truly macroscopic levels, and what its consequences may be, remains unknown. Here, we use call detail records (CDRs) to examine the population dynamics and manifestations of social and spatial homophily at a macroscopic level among the residents of 23 states of India at the Kumbh Mela, a 3-month-long Hindu festival. We estimate that the festival was attended by 61 million people, making it the largest gathering in the history of humanity. While we find strong overall evidence for both types of homophily for residents of different states, participants from low-representation states show considerably stronger propensity for both social and spatial homophily than those from high-representation states. These manifestations of homophily are amplified on crowded days, such as the peak day of the festival, which we estimate was attended by 25 million people. Our findings confirm that homophily, which here likely arises from social influence, permeates all scales of human behavior.
Social and Spatial Clustering of People at Humanity's Largest Gathering Ian Barnett, Tarun Khanna, Jukka-Pekka Onnela
A new mode of innovation is emerging that blurs the lines between universities, industry, governments and communities. It exploits disruptive technologies — such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things and big data — to solve societal challenges sustainably and profitably, and more quickly and ably than before. It is called open innovation 2.0.
The promise is sustainable, intelligent living: innovations drive economic growth and improve quality of life while reducing environmental impact and resource use. For example, a dynamic congestion-charging system can adjust traffic flow and offer incentives to use park-and-ride schemes, guided by real-time traffic levels and air quality. Car-to-car communication could manage traffic to minimize transit times and emissions and eliminate road deaths from collisions. Smart electricity grids lower costs, integrate renewable energies and balance loads. Health-care monitoring enables early interventions, improving life quality and reducing care costs.
Twelve principles for open innovation 2.0 Martin Curley
In recent years researchers have gravitated to social media platforms, especially Twitter, as fertile ground for empirical analysis of social phenomena. Social media provides researchers access to trace data of interactions and discourse that once went unrecorded in the offline world. Researchers have sought to use these data to explain social phenomena both particular to social media and applicable to the broader social world. This paper offers a minireview of Twitter-based research on political crowd behavior. This literature offers insight into particular social phenomena on Twitter, but often fails to use standardized methods that permit interpretation beyond individual studies. Moreover, the literature fails to ground methodologies and results in social or political theory, divorcing empirical research from the theory needed to interpret it. Rather, papers focus primarily on methodological innovations for social media analyses, but these too often fail to sufficiently demonstrate the validity of such methodologies. This minireview considers a small number of selected papers; we analyze their (often lack of) theoretical approaches, review their methodological innovations, and offer suggestions as to the relevance of their results for political scientists and sociologists.
A Biased Review of Biases in Twitter Studies on Political Collective Action Peter Cihon, Taha Yasseri
The literature views many African cities as dysfunctional with a hodgepodge of land uses and poor “connectivity.” One driver of inefficient land uses is construction decisions for highly durable buildings made under weak institutions. In a novel approach, we model the dynamics of urban land use with both formal and slum dwellings and ongoing urban redevelopment to higher building heights in the formal sector as a city grows. We analyze the evolution of Nairobi using a unique high–spatial resolution data set. The analysis suggests insufficient building volume through most of the city and large slum areas with low housing volumes near the center, where corrupted institutions deter conversion to formal sector usage.
Building functional cities J. Vernon Henderson, Anthony J. Venables, Tanner Regan, Ilia Samsonov
Evolution is often conceived as changes in the properties of a population over generations. Does this notion exhaust the possible dynamics of evolution? Life is hierarchically organized, and evolution can operate at multiple levels with conflicting tendencies. Using a minimal model of such conflicting multilevel evolution, we demonstrate the possibility of a novel mode of evolution that challenges the above notion: individuals ceaselessly modify their genetically inherited phenotype and fitness along their lines of descent, without involving apparent changes in the properties of the population. The model assumes a population of primitive cells (protocells, for short), each containing a population of replicating catalytic molecules. Protocells are selected towards maximizing the catalytic activity of internal molecules, whereas molecules tend to evolve towards minimizing it in order to maximize their relative fitness within a protocell. These conflicting evolutionary tendencies at different levels and genetic drift drive the lineages of protocells to oscillate endlessly between high and low intracellular catalytic activity, i.e. high and low fitness, along their lines of descent. This oscillation, however, occurs independently in different lineages, so that the population as a whole appears stationary. Therefore, ongoing evolution can be hidden behind an apparently stationary population owing to conflicting multilevel evolution.
Evolutionarily stable disequilibrium: endless dynamics of evolution in a stationary population Nobuto Takeuchi, Kunihiko Kaneko, Paulien Hogeweg
Little is known about cooperative behaviour among the gut microbiota; here, limited cooperation is demonstrated for Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, but Bacteroides ovatus is found to extracellularly digest a polysaccharide not for its own use, but to cooperatively feed other species such as Bacteroides vulgatus from which it receives return benefits.
The evolution of cooperation within the gut microbiota Seth Rakoff-Nahoum, Kevin R. Foster & Laurie E. Comstock
There is enormous interest in inferring features of human behavior in the real world from potential digital footprints created online - particularly at the collective level, where the sheer volume of online activity may indicate some changing mood within the population regarding a particular topic. Civil unrest is a prime example, involving the spontaneous appearance of large crowds of otherwise unrelated people on the street on a certain day. While indicators of brewing protests might be gleaned from individual online communications or account content (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) societal concerns regarding privacy can make such probing a politically delicate issue. Here we show that instead, a simple low-level indicator of civil unrest can be obtained from online data at the aggregate level through Google Trends or similar tools. Our study covers countries across Latin America during 2011-2014 in which diverse civil unrest events took place. In each case, we find that the combination of the volume and momentum of searches from Google Trends surrounding pairs of simple keywords, tailored for the specific cultural setting, provide good indicators of periods of civil unrest. This proof-of-concept study motivates the search for more geographically specific indicators based on geo-located searches at the urban level.
Open source data reveals connection between online and on-street protest activity Hong Qi, Pedro Manrique, Daniela Johnson, Elvira Restrepo and Neil F Johnson
Gender homophily, or the preference for interaction with individuals of the same gender, has been observed in many contexts, especially during childhood and adolescence. In this study we investigate such phenomenon by analyzing the interactions of the ∼10 million users of Tuenti, a Spanish social networking service popular among teenagers. In dyadic relationships we find evidence of higher gender homophily for women. We also observe a preference of users with more friends to connect to the opposite gender. A particularly marked gender difference emerges in signing up for the social networking service and adding the first friends, and in the interactions by means of wall messages. In these contexts we find evidence of a strong homophily for women, and little or no homophily for men. By examining the gender composition of triangle motifs, we observe a marked tendency of users to group into gender homogeneous clusters, with a particularly high number of male-only triangles. We show that age plays an important role in this context, with a tendency to higher homophily for young teenagers in both dyadic and triadic relationships. Our findings have implications for addressing gender gap issues, understanding adolescent online behavior and technology adoption, and modeling social networks.
Gender homophily in online dyadic and triadic relationships David Laniado , Yana Volkovich, Karolin Kappler and Andreas Kaltenbrunner
The story of Schrödinger's cat being hidden away in a box and being both dead and alive is often invoked to illustrate the how peculiar the quantum world can be. On a twist of the dead/alive behavior, Wang et al. now show that the cat can be in two separate locations at the same time. Constructing their cat from coherent microwave photons, they show that the state of the “electromagnetic cat” can be shared by two separated cavities. Going beyond common-sense absurdities of the classical world, the ability to share quantum states in different locations could be a powerful resource for quantum information processing.
The hypothesis that living systems can benefit from operating at the vicinity of critical points has gained momentum in recent years. Criticality may confer an optimal balance between too ordered and exceedingly noisy states. Here we present a model, based on information theory and statistical mechanics, illustrating how and why a community of agents aimed at understanding and communicating with each other converges to a globally coherent state in which all individuals are close to an internal critical state, i.e. at the borderline between order and disorder. We study—both analytically and computationally—the circumstances under which criticality is the best possible outcome of the dynamical process, confirming the convergence to critical points under very generic conditions. Finally, we analyze the effect of cooperation (agents trying to enhance not only their fitness, but also that of other individuals) and competition (agents trying to improve their own fitness and to diminish those of competitors) within our setting. The conclusion is that, while competition fosters criticality, cooperation hinders it and can lead to more ordered or more disordered consensual outcomes.
Strategic agents in incomplete-information environments have a conflicted relationship with uncertainty: it can keep them unpredictable to their opponents, but it must also be overcome to predict the actions of those opponents. We use a multivariate generalization of information theory to characterize the information processing behavior of strategic reasoning experts. We compare expert and novice poker players --- "sharks" and "fish" --- over 1.75 million hands of online two-player No-Limit Texas Hold'em (NLHE). Comparing the effects of privately known and publicly signaled information on wagering behavior, we find that the behavior of sharks coheres with information that emerges only from the interaction of public and private sources --- "synergistic" information that does not exist in either source alone. This implies that the effect of public information on shark behavior is better encrypted: it cannot be reconstructed without access to the hidden state of private cards. Integrative information processing affects not only one's own strategic behavior, but the ability of others to predict it. By characterizing the informational structure of complex strategic interactions, we offer a detailed account of how experts extract, process, and conceal valuable information in high-uncertainty, high-stakes competitive environments.
Information encryption in the expert management of strategic uncertainty
Automotive traffic is a classical example of a complex system, being the simplest case the homogeneous traffic where all vehicles are of the same kind, and using different means of transportation increases complexity due to different driving rules and interactions between each vehicle type. In particular, when motorcyclists drive in between the lanes of stopped or slow-moving vehicles. This later driving mode is a Venezuelan pervasive practice of mobilization that clearly jeopardizes road safety. We developed a minimalist agent-based model to analyze the interaction of road users with and without motorcyclists on the way. The presence of motorcyclists dwindles significantly the frequency of lane changes of motorists while increasing their frequency of acceleration-deceleration maneuvers, without significantly affecting their average speed. That is, motorcyclist "corralled" motorists in their lanes limiting their ability to maneuver and increasing their acceleration noise. Comparison of the simulations with real traffic videos shows good agreement between model and observation. The implications of these results regarding road safety concerns about the interaction between motorists and motorcyclists are discussed.
Simulating the interaction of road users: A glance to complexity of Venezuelan traffic Juan C. Correa, Mario I. Caicedo, Ana L. C. Bazzan, Klaus Jaffe
Earth has become an urban planet. More than half of the world's people now live in cities, and the proportion is growing. And urban areas are sprawling even faster than they are adding people, swallowing up both farmland and wildlands. The implications are sobering. The land area needed to provide city residents with food, energy, and materials is expanding; this ecological footprint is often 200 times greater than the area of a city itself. The resulting carbon emissions, added to those from cities themselves, mean that urbanization is now the main driver of climate change.
Policy directives in several nations are focusing on the development of smart cities, linking innovations in the data sciences with the goal of advancing human well-being and sustainability on a highly urbanized planet. To achieve this goal, smart initiatives must move beyond city-level data to a higher-order understanding of cities as transboundary, multisectoral, multiscalar, social-ecological-infrastructural systems with diverse actors, priorities, and solutions. We identify five key dimensions of cities and present eight principles to focus attention on the systems-level decisions that society faces to transition toward a smart, sustainable, and healthy urban future.
Meta-principles for developing smart, sustainable, and healthy cities Anu Ramaswami, Armistead G. Russell, Patricia J. Culligan, Karnamadakala Rahul Sharma, Emani Kumar
Many programs being implemented by US employers, insurers, and health care providers use incentives to encourage patients to take better care of themselves. We critically review a range of these efforts and show that many programs, although well-meaning, are unlikely to have much impact because they require information, expertise, and self-control that few patients possess. As a result, benefits are likely to accrue disproportionately to patients who already are taking adequate care of their health. We show how these programs could be made more effective through the use of insights from behavioral economics. For example, incentive programs that offer patients small and frequent payments for behavior that would benefit the patients, such as medication adherence, can be more effective than programs with incentives that are far less visible because they are folded into a paycheck or used to reduce a monthly premium. Deploying more-nuanced insights from behavioral economics can lead to policies with the potential to increase patient engagement and deliver dividends for patients and favorable cost-effectiveness ratios for insurers, employers, and other relevant commercial entities.
Behavioral Economics Holds Potential To Deliver Better Results For Patients, Insurers, And Employers George Loewenstein, David A. Asch and Kevin G. Volpp
One of the main challenges for aerial robots is the high-energy consumption of powered flight, which limits flight times to typically only tens of minutes for systems below 2 kg in weight (1). This limitation greatly reduces their utility for sensing and inspection tasks, where longer hovering times would be beneficial. Perching onto structures can save energy and maintain a high, stable observation or resting position, but it requires a coordination of flight dynamics and some means of attaching to the structure. Birds and insects have mastered the ability to perch successfully and have inspired perching robots at various sizes. On page 978 of this issue, Graule et al. (2) describe a perching robotic insect that represents the smallest flying robot platform that can autonomously attach to surfaces. At a mass of only 100 mg, it combines advanced flight control with adaptive mechanical dampers and electro-adhesion to perch on a variety of natural and artificial structures.
Learning from nature how to land aerial robots Mirko Kovac
A complete solution is given for a symmetric case of the problem of the planar central configurations of four bodies, when two bodies are on an axis of symmetry, and the other two bodies have equal masses and are situated symmetrically with respect to the axis of symmetry. The positions of the bodies on the axis of symmetry are described by angle coordinates with respect to the outside bodies. The solution is such, that giving the angle coordinates, the masses for which the given configuration is a central configuration, can be computed from simple analytical expressions of the angles. The central configurations can be described as one-parameter families, and these are discussed in detail in one convex and two concave cases. The derived formulae represent exact analytical solutions of the four-body problem.
Central configurations of four bodies with an axis of symmetry Bálint Érdi, Zalán Czirják
Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy May 2016, Volume 125, Issue 1, pp 33-70
Complexity Labs is an online resource dedicated to the area of complex systems providing a wide variety of users with information, research, learning and media content relating to this exciting new area. Our mission statement is to assist in the development of a coherent, robust and accessible framework for modelling, designing and managing complex systems.
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