Complexity — David Krakauer, Part 6

On: Exponentials, Economics, and Ecology

Transmission Series Ep. 6

Episode: 32

Date: May 12, 2020

Evolutionary biologist.

Review of 5 Transmission Essays.

Key Takeaways

  • Complex systems.
    • Compress and accelerate what was already there.
    • Higher variation in outcomes (exponential differences).
    • Harder to predict outcomes.
    • Harder to intervene.
    • Increased uncertainty.

Key Concepts

David Wolpert on SARS-CoV-2 and Landauer’s bound

  • There are energetic limits to computation.
    • Logical manipulation of information generates heat (Landauer Principle).
    • Heat is dissipated into the environment.
    • Puts a limit on how computation: “stuff” gets (too) hot.
  • The corona virus circumvents limitation by “outsourcing” computation.
    • Hijacks the machinery of the host to do all the work of copying the virus.
  • Extended phenotype: most of the virus is not the virus…
    • The host contributes most of the machinery needed for replication.
    • Other (outsourcing) examples:
      • A spider and its web.
      • Technological “hyper-objects”:
        • iPhone is small, server backbone supporting it is huge.
    • Many “costs” are out of sight.
      • Hidden costs, externalities.
  • Unclear where to draw boundaries around individuals or individual objects.
    • Depends on observed scale in terms of time and space.
  • Something to do with causality and control.
    • Where does the center of causality extend to, the point of no control.

Sidney Redner on exponential growth processes

  • Exponential growth.
    • Extreme sensitivity to initial conditions.
      • Variation in initial conditions leads to substantial differences in outcomes.
    • Tiny measurement errors or differences are amplified massively.
      • Amplifies uncertainty.
  • Exposure to more complex, exponential systems = more volatility = more variation in outcomes = more uncertainty = more difficult to deal with.
    • Difficult to control or influence.

Chris Kempes and Geoffrey West on understanding cities to respond to pandemics

  • History of humanity has largely been rural.
    • Shaped our institutions and intuitions.
  • Now, majority lives in cities.
    • Speeds everything up.
    • General theme: compression and acceleration.
  • Cities are machines that drive scaling laws for many socioeconomic quantities.
    • Wages, wealth, disease transmission.
  • Makes it difficult to predict or find points of intervention.
    • Difficult to integrate across the many dimensions of these networks.

Eric Maskin on mechanism design for the market

  • What to do when market efficiency is compromised.
    • Game theory.
      • Agents consider strategic options associated with different pay-offs.
      • Solution is the strategy with the highest pay-off.
      • Investigate accessibility and stability of solutions.
    • Mechanism design.
      • Turns game theory on its head.
      • Appropriate strategy when certain information is missing.
      • Starts with the solution, then looks for strategies and pay-offs needed to get there.
      • Design a system (voting, auction) to achieve the desired solution.
      • Example – dividing a cake among 2 people:
        • How to avoid tragedy of the commons?
        • One person cuts, the other person chooses.
      • General principle: outsourcing the utility function to others.
        • Align the individual incentive with the global social welfare function.
        • Provide an incentive to both buyer and seller to do the right thing.
    • Over time, regulatory coordination may emerge.
      • Top-down control can emerge in self-organizing systems.
        • Aligning incentives for various agents within the system.
        • Constraining the landscape of possible outcomes.
        • See Complexity — David Krakauer, Part 3 on the role of internal regulatory constraints.

Pamela Yeh and Ian MacGregor-Fors on studying wildlife in empty cities

  • How long does it take for species to adapt?
    • Corona virus changes the environment for many species.
    • How do species adapt when humans are no longer around.
    • See Complexity — David Krakauer, Part 3 on the role of external regulatory constraints.

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