Identifying Control Points In Complex Systems Like Financial Markets Could Teach Engineers To Influence Them
You are surrounded by systems in all walks of life, whether it's your own body, your girlfriend or group of friends, your car, or the global financial markets. Some of these systems or complex networks can be managed, while some are just beyond your control. For example, your car has been designed for human use and you control the way it functions, but a collapse of uncontrollable systems may result in a crash. Other cases may result in disease, an economic meltdown, or a romantic breakup. Researchers have been trying to discover ways to control these large and complex systems for many years, and now, two professors might just have the solution.
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Professor Justin Ruths, from Singapore University of Technology, and his brother, Professor Derek Ruths, from McGill University, have come to the conclusion that solutions to problems arising from any complex system, be it the human body, the financial market, or our interaction in society, fall into three basic categories. They did this by analyzing the inputs and outputs of various systems, as well as the critical control points - parts of the system that can be manipulated to control the entire system.
"When controlling a cell in the body, for example, these control points might correspond to proteins that we can regulate using specific drugs," Justin said in a statement. "But in the case of a national or international economic system, the critical control points could be certain companies whose financial activity needs to be directly regulated."
They created groups of systems based on how the individual parts of the system could be controlled. For example, one group had organizational hierarchies, gene regulation, and human purchasing behavior together, because the individual aspects of each are difficult to control when they're isolated. Another group deals with our social interactions, such as groups of friends and neural networks in the brain, where the systems allow for relatively independent behavior. The final group was considered to be closed systems, which includes food systems, electrical circuits, and the internet, where resources circulate internally.
"While our framework does provide insights into the nature of control in these systems, we're also intrigued by what these groupings tell us about how very different parts of the world share deep and fundamental attributes in common -- which may help unify our understanding of complexity and of control," Derek said in the statement.
"What we really want people to take away from the research at this point is that we can control these complex and important systems in the same way that we can control a car," Justin said, "And that our work is giving us insight into which parts of the system we need to control and why. Ultimately, at this point we have developed some new theory that helps to advance the field in important ways, but it may still be another five to ten years before we see how this will play out in concrete terms."
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