Archive for the ‘Complexity’ Category

An explanation for why working group sizes of 6 to 9 people are most effective

January 23, 2008

Some anthropologists have speculated that groups of 6 to 9 people come from our long evolutionary heritage as hunter-gatherers, and that such group sizes made for effective hunting bands.

Evolution tends to be quite efficient over time at finding balances between trade-offs.

So it is likely that working group sizes of 6 to 9 people evolved because they represent a balance between the benefits of scale (a hunting band can get more food per calories expended than a lone individual can), and the diseconomies of complexity. Our ancestors would not have survived for long if hunting groups of thirty people spent hours debating whether they should hunt bison or antelope that day.

The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker

People love simplicity

January 11, 2008

People love simplicity.

Have you ever read halfway through a movie review and then skipped to the end to find out whether the movie got a thumbs up or a thumbs down?

Have you ever paged through a car magazine checking out how many stars every car received?

Have you ever sat with a friend rating the guys or girls you both know on a scale of 1 to 10?

Movies, cars, guys, and girls are complicated.  There’s so much to understand.  But people love simplicity.  I’m sure you, like me, feel a sense of relief when you can reduce all of that complexity down to something small enough to carry in your pocket.

Logic was invented with this need in mind.  With logic you can take a complicated statement in English and write it with just a few and, or, and not symbols, and reduce the sentence to a single truth value: either True or False.

Logic for Dummies by Mark Zegarelli

The whole is equal to the sum of the parts … versus … The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

September 15, 2007

The whole is equal to the sum of the parts.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

These expressions represent two very different types of systems.

When someone buys a newspaper at the corner drugstore, it has no effect on my decision to buy a tube of toothpaste at the supermarket. The two events are independent. The whole is equal to the sum of the parts.

If lots of people start buying various products then it may influence others to buy products. This reinforcing behavior may create a boom in the economy. Conversely, if lots of people stop buying products then it may influence others to save, and thus create a recession. The actions by the individuals are dependent. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Systems where the whole is equal to the sum of the parts are called linear systems. Each component is independent of the others.

Systems where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts are called non-linear systems. Each component may influence other components. A non-linear system is a vast web of incentives and constraints and connections. The slightest change in one part causes tremors everywhere else. “We can’t help but disturb the Universe”

— Extracted from Complexity by M. Mitchell Waldrop

Want to build the next “hot” technology? Design it so that it enables complexity.

September 1, 2007

“According to our best experimentally confirmed physical theory, all known stable matter in the universe is made up of three kinds of elementary particle coupled via four kinds of fundamental interaction.” [1]

Imagine, all of life and everything in it emerges from 3 kinds of particles interacting in 4 different ways. Astounding!

I asked a very bright colleague, “What are technologies that survive?” He responded, “Those technologies that enable complexity.” [Complexity is the ability of simple things to be composed to create complex things]

3 kinds of particles interacting in 4 different ways enable tremendous complexity. In fact, it enables the entire universe.

A much simpler example is Legos: these are simple building blocks, from which complex structures can be built.

Let’s take another example.  Suppose there is one road from my home to my workplace.  There aren’t any options in the path from home to work.  Now, suppose a bunch of side-roads are created. Now my options (and everyone else’s options) have expanded considerably. The introduction of the new roads has enabled complexity.

Want to build the next “hot” technology? Design it so that it enables complexity.

[1] Foundations of Complex-System Theories by Sunny Y. Auyang

Is there more information in a rock than in the human genetic DNA code?

August 18, 2007

How much information is in here:

  • It is a fine day.

Let’s measure the information by the number of characters. There are 17 characters, so the amount of information is 17.

How much information is in here:

  • It is a fine day. It is a fine day. It is a fine day. It is a fine day. It is a fine day.

The same sentence is repeated five times. Is the amount of information 17 x 5 = 85? Answer: No. The extra four sentences don’t say anything new. The information that is present is this:

  • Repeat 5 times: It is a fine day.

The number of characters in this is: 33

How much information is in here:

  • 3.1415 …

This is the value of pi. Suppose one million digits are displayed. None of the digits repeat, so you might be tempted to say that the amount of information is one million. Not so. The information can be represented succinctly as:

  • Pi to one million digits

Now the amount of information is just 24.

How much information is in here:

  • dkdl;eekrkpeosfdlzdmc;dsfkdopkfospkfs;dlkflas;krwe0q0–03ospaaj

This is just a random sequence of 63 characters. If any random characters will do, then the information can be represented simply as:

  • Random sequence of 63 characters

There are 33 characters.

Something is “information” if it is meaningful, non-random, and unpredictable [1].

How much information is in a rock? If we were to characterize all the properties (location, angular momentum, spin, velocity, and so on) of every atom in the rock, we would have a vast amount of information. A one-kilogram rock has 100000000000000000000000000000 (29 zeros) atoms. That’s one hundred million billion times more information than the genetic code of a human race. But for most common purposes, the bulk of this information is largely random and of little consequence. So we characterize the rock for most purposes with far less information just by specifying its shape, location, and the type of material of which it is made. Thus, it is reasonable to consider the information of an ordinary rock to be far less than that of a human even though the rock theoretically contains vast amounts of information.

[1] If you know what’s going to be said (i.e. it’s predictable) then it’s not information.

– – Extracted from The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

Recipe for Managing Complexity

August 9, 2007

Here is a recipe for managing complexity of any type:

  • Do simple things first.
  • Learn to do them flawlessly.
  • Add new layers of activity over the results of the simple tasks.
  • Don’t change the simple things.
  • Make the new layer work as flawlessly as the simple.
  • Repeat, ad infinitum.

Complexity must be grown from simple systems that already work.

— Out of Control by Kevin Kelly