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Terraforming ecosystems with synthetic biology. Ricard Solé

Complexity Digest - Fri, 06/11/2021 - 12:51


Our planet is experiencing an accelerated process of change associated with a variety of anthropogenic phenomena. The future of this transformation is uncertain, but there is general agreement about its negative unfolding that might threaten our own survival. Furthermore, the pace of the expected changes is likely to be abrupt: catastrophic shifts might be the most likely outcome of this ongoing, apparently slow process. Although different strategies for geo-engineering the planet have been advanced, none seem likely to safely revert the large-scale problems associated to carbon dioxide accumulation or ecosystem degradation. An alternative possibility considered here is inspired in the rapidly growing potential for engineering living systems. It would involve designing synthetic organisms capable of reproducing and expanding to large geographic scales with the goal of achieving a long-term or a transient restoration of ecosystem-level homeostasis. Such a regional or even planetary-scale engineering would have to deal with the complexity of our biosphere. It will require not only a proper design of organisms but also understanding their place within ecological networks and their evolvability. This is a likely future scenario that will require integration of ideas coming from currently weakly connected domains, including synthetic biology, ecological and genome engineering, evolutionary theory, climate science, biogeography and invasion ecology, among others.

Watch at: www.youtube.com

Designing temporal networks that synchronize under resource constraints

Complexity Digest - Fri, 06/11/2021 - 09:46

Yuanzhao Zhang & Steven H. Strogatz 
Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 3273 (2021)

Being fundamentally a non-equilibrium process, synchronization comes with unavoidable energy costs and has to be maintained under the constraint of limited resources. Such resource constraints are often reflected as a finite coupling budget available in a network to facilitate interaction and communication. Here, we show that introducing temporal variation in the network structure can lead to efficient synchronization even when stable synchrony is impossible in any static network under the given budget, thereby demonstrating a fundamental advantage of temporal networks. The temporal networks generated by our open-loop design are versatile in the sense of promoting synchronization for systems with vastly different dynamics, including periodic and chaotic dynamics in both discrete-time and continuous-time models. Furthermore, we link the dynamic stabilization effect of the changing topology to the curvature of the master stability function, which provides analytical insights into synchronization on temporal networks in general. In particular, our results shed light on the effect of network switching rate and explain why certain temporal networks synchronize only for intermediate switching rate.

Read the full article at: www.nature.com

Conspiracy of Corporate Networks in Corruption Scandals

Complexity Digest - Thu, 06/10/2021 - 12:25

J. R. Nicolás-Carlock & I. Luna-Pla

Front. Phys

Corruption in public procurement transforms state institutions into private entities where public resources get diverted for the benefit of a few. On this matter, much of the discussion centers on the legal fulfillment of the procurement process, while there are fewer formal analyses related to the corporate features which are most likely to signal organized crime and corruption. The lack of systematic evidence on this subject has the potential to bias our understanding of corruption, making it overly focused on the public sector. Nevertheless, corruption scandals worldwide tell of the importance of taking a better look at the misuse and abuse of corporations for corrupt purposes. In this context, the research presented here seeks to contribute to the understanding of the criminal conspiracy of companies involved in public procurement corruption scandals under a network and complexity science perspective. To that end, we make use of a unique dataset of the corporate ownership and management information of four important and recently documented cases of corruption in Mexico, where hundreds of companies were used to embezzle billions of dollars. Under a bipartite network approach, we explore the relations between companies and their personnel (shareholders, legal representatives, administrators, and commissioners) in order to characterize their static and dynamic networked structure. In terms of organized crime and using different network properties, we describe how these companies connect with each other due to the existence of shared personnel with role multiplicity, leading to very different conspiracy networks. To best quantify this behavior, we introduce a heuristic network-based conspiracy indicator that together with other network metrics describes the differences and similarities among the networks associated with each corruption case. Finally, we discuss some public policy elements that might be needed to be considered in anti-corruption efforts related to corporate organized crime.

Read the full article at: www.frontiersin.org

Simon DeDeo on How Explanations Work and Why They Sometimes Fail

Complexity Digest - Thu, 06/10/2021 - 09:40

You observe a phenomenon, and come up with an explanation for it. That’s true for scientists, but also for literally every person. (Why won’t my car start? I bet it’s out of gas.) But there are literally an infinite number of possible explanations for every phenomenon we observe. How do we invent ones we think are promising, and then decide between them once invented? Simon DeDeo (in collaboration with Zachary Wojtowicz) has proposed a way to connect explanatory values (“simplicity,” “fitting the data,” etc) to specific mathematical expressions in Bayesian reasoning. We talk about what makes explanations good, and how they can get out of control, leading to conspiracy theories or general crackpottery, from QAnon to flat earthers.

Listen at: www.preposterousuniverse.com

Is Green Development an Oxymoron?

Complexity Digest - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 10:48

Ricardo Hausmann

Decarbonization will transform global production and trade patterns so radically that new growth opportunities are bound to arise for the Global South. The goal for them should not be to stop global warming by restricting domestic emissions, but rather to carve out a role for themselves in a rapidly greening world economy.

Read the full article at: www.project-syndicate.org

Too Lazy to Read the Paper: Episode 9 with Marta Sales-Pardo and Roger Guimera

Complexity Digest - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 09:31

Today on the pod is Marta Sales-Pardo & Roger Guimera.
What a great talk. We could have gone on for hours. Peer review, power-laws, becoming scientists, Bayesian statistics, and much, much more.
Marta and Roger study fundamental problems in all areas of science including natural, social and economic sciences. They have expertise in a broad set of tools from statistical physics, network science, statistics and computer science.
Both were many years at Northwestern before starting a group at URV in Catalonia. They are authors of many classic papers in Network Science, lots of important work, e.g. on community detection. 
We talk about their paper “A Bayesian machine scientist to aid in the solution of challenging scientific problems”

Listen at: toolazy.buzzsprout.com

Uncovering Coordinated Networks on Social Media: Methods and Case Studies

Complexity Digest - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 08:41

Coordinated campaigns are used to manipulate social media platforms and influence their users, a critical challenge to the free exchange of information. Our paper introduces a general, unsupervised, network-based methodology to uncover groups of accounts that are likely coordinated. The proposed method constructs coordination networks based on arbitrary behavioral traces shared among accounts. We present five case studies of influence campaigns, four of which in the diverse contexts of U.S. elections, Hong Kong protests, the Syrian civil war, and cryptocurrency manipulation. In each of these cases, we detect networks of coordinated Twitter accounts by examining their identities, images, hashtag sequences, retweets, or temporal patterns. The proposed approach proves to be broadly applicable to uncover different kinds of coordination across information warfare scenarios.

By Diogo Pacheco, Pik-Mai Hui, Chris Torres, Bao Truong, Sandro Flammini & Fil Menczer

Read the full open-access article from the Proceedings ICWSM2021

The Impossibility of Automating Ambiguity

Complexity Digest - Sat, 06/05/2021 - 12:00

Abeba Birhane

Artificial Life

On the one hand, complexity science and enactive and embodied cognitive science approaches emphasize that people, as complex adaptive systems, are ambiguous, indeterminable, and inherently unpredictable. On the other, Machine Learning (ML) systems that claim to predict human behaviour are becoming ubiquitous in all spheres of social life. I contend that ubiquitous Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ML systems are close descendants of the Cartesian and Newtonian worldview in so far as they are tools that fundamentally sort, categorize, and classify the world, and forecast the future. Through the practice of clustering, sorting, and predicting human behaviour and action, these systems impose order, equilibrium, and stability to the active, fluid, messy, and unpredictable nature of human behaviour and the social world at large. Grounded in complexity science and enactive and embodied cognitive science approaches, this article emphasizes why people, embedded in social systems, are indeterminable and unpredictable. When ML systems “pick up” patterns and clusters, this often amounts to identifying historically and socially held norms, conventions, and stereotypes. Machine prediction of social behaviour, I argue, is not only erroneous but also presents real harm to those at the margins of society.

Read the full article at: direct.mit.edu

Bad machines corrupt good morals

Complexity Digest - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 13:19

Nils Köbis, Jean-François Bonnefon & Iyad Rahwan 
Nature Human Behaviour (2021)

As machines powered by artificial intelligence (AI) influence humans’ behaviour in ways that are both like and unlike the ways humans influence each other, worry emerges about the corrupting power of AI agents. To estimate the empirical validity of these fears, we review the available evidence from behavioural science, human–computer interaction and AI research. We propose four main social roles through which both humans and machines can influence ethical behaviour. These are: role model, advisor, partner and delegate. When AI agents become influencers (role models or advisors), their corrupting power may not exceed the corrupting power of humans (yet). However, AI agents acting as enablers of unethical behaviour (partners or delegates) have many characteristics that may let people reap unethical benefits while feeling good about themselves, a potentially perilous interaction. On the basis of these insights, we outline a research agenda to gain behavioural insights for better AI oversight.

Read the full article at: www.nature.com

Evolution of Autopoiesis and Multicellularity in the Game of Life

Complexity Digest - Wed, 06/02/2021 - 14:36

Peter D. Turney

Artificial Life

Recently we introduced a model of symbiosis, Model-S, based on the evolution of seed patterns in Conway’s Game of Life. In the model, the fitness of a seed pattern is measured by one-on-one competitions in the Immigration Game, a two-player variation of the Game of Life. Our previous article showed that Model-S can serve as a highly abstract, simplified model of biological life: (1) The initial seed pattern is analogous to a genome. (2) The changes as the game runs are analogous to the development of the phenome. (3) Tournament selection in Model-S is analogous to natural selection in biology. (4) The Immigration Game in Model-S is analogous to competition in biology. (5) The first three layers in Model-S are analogous to biological reproduction. (6) The fusion of seed patterns in Model-S is analogous to symbiosis. The current article takes this analogy two steps further: (7) Autopoietic structures in the Game of Life (still lifes, oscillators, and spaceships—collectively known as ashes) are analogous to cells in biology. (8) The seed patterns in the Game of Life give rise to multiple, diverse, cooperating autopoietic structures, analogous to multicellular biological life. We use the apgsearch software (Ash Pattern Generator Search), developed by Adam Goucher for the study of ashes, to analyze autopoiesis and multicellularity in Model-S. We find that the fitness of evolved seed patterns in Model-S is highly correlated with the diversity and quantity of multicellular autopoietic structures.

Read the full article at: direct.mit.edu

Revealing Consensus and Dissensus between Network Partitions

Complexity Digest - Wed, 06/02/2021 - 14:22

Tiago P. Peixoto
Phys. Rev. X 11, 021003

Community detection methods attempt to divide a network into groups of nodes that share similar properties, thus revealing its large-scale structure. A major challenge when employing such methods is that they are often degenerate, typically yielding a complex landscape of competing answers. As an attempt to extract understanding from a population of alternative solutions, many methods exist to establish a consensus among them in the form of a single partition “point estimate” that summarizes the whole distribution. Here, we show that it is, in general, not possible to obtain a consistent answer from such point estimates when the underlying distribution is too heterogeneous. As an alternative, we provide a comprehensive set of methods designed to characterize and summarize complex populations of partitions in a manner that captures not only the existing consensus but also the dissensus between elements of the population. Our approach is able to model mixed populations of partitions, where multiple consensuses can coexist, representing different competing hypotheses for the network structure. We also show how our methods can be used to compare pairs of partitions, how they can be generalized to hierarchical divisions, and how they can be used to perform statistical model selection between competing hypotheses.

Read the full article at: link.aps.org

The universal visitation law of human mobility

Complexity Digest - Wed, 06/02/2021 - 08:29

Markus Schläpfer, Lei Dong, Kevin O’Keeffe, Paolo Santi, Michael Szell, Hadrien Salat, Samuel Anklesaria, Mohammad Vazifeh, Carlo Ratti & Geoffrey B. West
Nature volume 593, pages 522–527 (2021)

Human mobility impacts many aspects of a city, from its spatial structure to its response to an epidemic. It is also ultimately key to social interactions, innovation and productivity. However, our quantitative understanding of the aggregate movements of individuals remains incomplete. Existing models—such as the gravity law or the radiation model—concentrate on the purely spatial dependence of mobility flows and do not capture the varying frequencies of recurrent visits to the same locations. Here we reveal a simple and robust scaling law that captures the temporal and spatial spectrum of population movement on the basis of large-scale mobility data from diverse cities around the globe. According to this law, the number of visitors to any location decreases as the inverse square of the product of their visiting frequency and travel distance. We further show that the spatio-temporal flows to different locations give rise to prominent spatial clusters with an area distribution that follows Zipf’s law. Finally, we build an individual mobility model based on exploration and preferential return to provide a mechanistic explanation for the discovered scaling law and the emerging spatial structure. Our findings corroborate long-standing conjectures in human geography (such as central place theory and Weber’s theory of emergent optimality) and allow for predictions of recurrent flows, providing a basis for applications in urban planning, traffic engineering and the mitigation of epidemic diseases.

Read the full article at: www.nature.com


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