Complexity Will Soon Be Out of Control


Posted by Marty Sprinzen, CEO - 31 January, 2018


It is clear to almost everyone that the world is getting more complex. In addition, I think all would also agree that this is happening faster and faster. The question before us now is at what point do things break? It would be hard to argue that humans will always adapt. It is only so far that our plasticity will support that strategy. Perhaps innovation will be forced to slow down. But - if there are benefits to a technology - it will be used by someone somewhere.

The only solution is for technology itself to solve this dilemma. Hmmm, is that an oxymoron?  First let us analyze what is happening. The internet (communication), combined with the ability to rapidly create and deploy logic (software) anywhere to monitor and control has enabled human innovations to progress like never before. Logic now runs on corporate premises, in the cloud, on smartphones and throughout the Internet of Things (IoT). This has happened in a mere twenty years. And it is only the beginning.

Before this rapid growth, things progressed somewhat less rapidly because the progression was limited by mechanical, electrical and other physical restrictions. We could build electric grids, automobiles, jet engines etc. but, it took time to evolve those technologies. Humans were able to control them. There were supervisory control systems for monitoring electric grids or manufacturing plants. There are jet pilots to fly complex jets. All good.

But at the speed of the internet the ability to control things is starting to disappear. One only needs to look at cybersecurity issues, unplanned system outages, and the huge legacy of stuff we don’t know how to manage as early warning signs of future problems. Things will get more difficult.

For example, the current major impetus of digital transformation is to deploy technology to be the infrastructure of a business – a so-called enterprise nervous system (ENS). It can be used to control supply chains, distribution, and human resources unlike ever before. These systems are being created and evolving faster than ever. And it will be desirable to get them to work together.

Up until the last few years it was thought by many that automation would be the solution by taking control away from humans. Automating the world using AI, robotics and other strategies were thought to eventually come to the rescue. Humans would step aside or at least be able to. Automation would take over in this idealist worldview. The truth is that humans are absolutely required to monitor and control the new systems that are being created. AI will be a tool of humans but will not replace human cognition in any foreseeable future. Humans will do what they do best – generalization, intuition, and creativity. So, how will this work?

Systems must be built that collaborate with humans at appropriate times (so-called ‘human-machine collaboration’). Humans must also be able to very rapidly change systems if inadvertent, unintended, or undesirable behaviors occur. We all remember Jurassic Park where the Chaos theory mathematician (Jeff Goldblum) predicted there would be unintended consequences given such a complex environment. The proper controls and dynamic change capabilities when unknown things happen must be built in from the beginning. Tomorrow’s complex systems must take this into consideration.

 To Be Continued…

Topics: digital transformation, human-machine collaboration

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