Showing posts from 2012

Improving public transport with a budget

Large cities benefit from public transport. It is simply more efficient to transport hundreds or thousands of people together (trans, trams, buses) than each of them individually (cars, taxis). However, public transportation systems have to match the passenger demand. If there are relatively too few passengers for the public transport capacity, there will be idling and waste of resources. If there are relatively too many passengers, the system will be saturated and become inefficient. This balance between public transport capacity and demand is very tricky, since many cities change their transportation demands much faster than their public transport infrastructure.
There is also a clear correlation between the cost, building time, and capacity of transportation systems. Trains and metros are high cost, high capacity, making them unsuitable for cities of roughtly less than a million inhabitants. Trams and bus rapid transit (BRT) are intermediate: they have less capacity, but they cost l…

Book chapter published: Facing complexity: Predition vs. adaptation

Gershenson, C. (2013). Facing complexity: Predition vs. adaptation. In A. Massip and A. Bastardas (eds), Complexity Perspectives on Language, Communication and Society.

One of the presuppositions of science since the times of Galileo, Newton, Laplace, and Descartes has been the predictability of the world. This idea has strongly influenced scientific and technological models. However, in recent decades, chaos and complexity have shown that not every phenomenon is predictable, even if it is deterministic. If a problem space is predictable, in theory we can find a solution via optimization. Nevertheless, if a problem space is not predictable, or it changes too fast, very probably optimization will offer obsolete solutions. This occurs often when the immediate solution affects the problem itself. An alternative is found in adaptation. An adaptive system will be able to find by itself new solutions for unforeseen situations.

Video: Las implicaciones de las interacciones para la ciencia y la filosofía

From today's seminar [in Spanish]

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Based on:

Gershenson, C. (In Press) The Implications of Interactions for Science and Philosophy. Foundations of Science.

Paper published: Life as Thermodynamic Evidence of Algorithmic Structure in Natural Environments

In evolutionary biology, attention to the relationship between stochastic organisms and their stochastic environments has leaned towards the adaptability and learning capabilities of the organisms rather than toward the properties of the environment. This article is devoted to the algorithmic aspects of the environment and its interaction with living organisms. We ask whether one may use the fact of the existence of life to establish how far nature is removed from algorithmic randomness. The paper uses a novel approach to behavioral evolutionary questions, using tools drawn from information theory, algorithmic complexity and the thermodynamics of computation to support an intuitive assumption about the near optimal structure of a physical environment that would prove conducive to the evolution and survival of organisms, and sketches the potential of these tools, at present alien to biology, that could be used in the future to address different and deeper questions. We contribute to th…

Paper Published: The Implications of Interactions for Science and Philosophy

Reductionism has dominated science and philosophy for centuries. Complexity has recently shown that interactions—which reductionism neglects—are relevant for understanding phenomena. When interactions are considered, reductionism becomes limited in several aspects. In this paper, I argue that interactions imply nonreductionism, non-materialism, non-predictability, non-Platonism, and non-Nihilism. As alternatives to each of these, holism, informism, adaptation, contextuality, and meaningfulness are put forward, respectively. A worldview that includes interactions not only describes better our world, but can help to solve many open scientific, philosophical, and social problems caused by implications of reductionism.

The Implications of Interactions for Science and PhilosophyCarlos Gershenson FOUNDATIONS OF SCIENCE 2012, DOI:10.1007/s10699-012-9305-8
Update 2013-12-09
Finally got its volume number:
Foundations of Science
November 2013, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 781-790

New draft: Living is information processing; from molecules to global systems

We extend the concept that life is an informational phenomenon, at every level of organisation, from molecules to the global ecological system. According to this thesis: (a) living is information processing, in which memory is maintained by both molecular states and ecological states as well as the more obvious nucleic acid coding; (b) this information processing has one overall function - to perpetuate itself; and (c) the processing method is filtration (cognition) of, and synthesis of, information at lower levels to appear at higher levels in complex systems (emergence). We show how information patterns, are united by the creation of mutual context, generating persistent consequences, to result in `functional information'. This constructive process forms arbitrarily large complexes of information, the combined effects of which include the functions of life. Molecules and simple organisms have already been measured in terms of functional information content; we show how quantific…

Video: Complexity and Information: Measuring Emergence, Self-organization, Homeostasis, and Autopoiesis at Multiple Scales

Complexity and Information: Measuring Emergence, Self-organization, Homeostasis, and Autopoiesis at Multiple Scales

Keynote talk at the 5th International Workshop on Guided Self-Organization. University of Sydney, Australia, September 26th, 2012.

Concepts used in the scientific study of complex systems have become so widespread that their use and abuse has led to ambiguity and confusion in their meaning. We use information theory to provide abstract and concise measures of complexity, emergence, self-organization, homeostasis, and autopoiesis. The purpose is to clarify the meaning of these concepts with the aid of the proposed formal measures. In a simplified version of the measures (focusing on the information produced by a system), emergence becomes the opposite of self- organization, while complexity represents their balance. Homeostasis can be seen as a measure of the stability of the system. Autopoiesis can be measured as the ratio between the information pr…

IWSOS 2013 7th International Workshop on Self-Organizing Systems Palma de Mallorca, 9-10th of May, 2013

IWSOS 2013
7th International Workshop on Self-Organizing Systems
Palma de Mallorca, 9-10th of May, 2013

IWSOS 2013 is the seventh International Workshop on Self-Organizing Systems, a multidisciplinary event dedicated to self-organization in networks and networked systems, including techno-social systems.

Self-organization relates the behavior of the individual components (the microscopic level) to the resulting networked structure and functionality of the overall system (the macroscopic level), where simple interactions at the microscopic level may already give rise to complex, adaptive, and robust behavior at the macroscopic level. The growing scale, complexity, and dynamics of (future) networked systems have been driving research from centralized solutions to self-organized networked systems. The applicability of well-known self-organizing techniques to specific networks and networked systems is being investigated, as well as adaptations and novel app…

Video: Application of living technology to urban problems

Earlier this month I gave a seminar back at the VUB, one of my alma maters. Here is a video recording, more details here or below.

Application of living technology to urban problemsCarlos Gershenson (Universidad Nacional  Autónoma de México)
 Abstract: I will present an overview of current and potential applications of living technology to urban problems. Living technology can be described as technology that exhibits the core features of living systems. These features can be useful to solve dynamic problems. In particular, urban problems concerning mobility, logistics, telecommunications, governance, safety, sustainability, and society and culture are presented, while solutions involving living technology are reviewed. A methodology for developing living technology is mentioned, while supraoptimal public transportation systems are used as a case study to illustrate the benefits of urban living technology. Finally, the usefulness of describing cities as living systems is discussed. Refe…

Hypocritical denial

The Mexican federal electoral tribunal rejected the demand for the nulification of the presidential election yesterday. The magistrates say that proofs are not sufficient. I do not know who are they trying to fool. Everybody knows about the irregularities and we received thousands of proofs at Contamos. But also the millions who got material benefits from PRI know it first hand. Where did all the money come from, we don't know, but it is either deviated from public money for electoral purposes, or from organized crime. Which one is worse? Illegal in any case. There is a huge social discontent. Regrettably, it is only fitting for a soap opera president: to become "elected" with such a farse. On your TV sets from December 1st.

Can a butterfly fly with only half her wings?

Butterflies have four wings. Can they fly with only two?

This question arose this week. My wife and daughter had picked up a butterfly cocoon to see how the butterfly emerged and later free her. But our naughty/lovely cat bit on the cocoon. So when the butterfly came out, her right wings were damaged. She couldn't fly.

Still, to answer the question of this post, if the hind wings are missing, butterflies can fly, their flight is amazingly robust. This is a nice example of how reductionism fails to see the function of systems by ignoring their interactions. You can have two out of four wings, but a butterfly will fly or not, live or die, depending on how the remaining wings interact. Looking only at individual wings will not tell you much about the capabilities of the insect.

TED@SãoPaulo talk on Living Cities

Last June I had the privilege to participate in a wonderful evening in São Paulo where local TEDx organizers from all over Brazil gathered to attend TED's worldwide talent search.

There were extremely interesting and moving 6 minute talks from a very broad range of themes and topics. I gave a talk on our work on Living Cities and their potential for solving urban problems.

There were almost 300 talks in 14 cities worldwide. 20 of those will be selected to present in TED2013. TED@SãoPaulo was the only event held in Latin America, and I am the only Mexican competing for a place in TED2013.

Please watch, rate, comment, and share my talk before August 31st, to help the organizers decide:;TEDSao-Paulo

You can find related work at

Paper Published: Self-Organizing System-on-Chip Design

Self-organization in the context of computing systems refers to a technological approach to deal with the increasing complexity associated with the deployment, maintenance, and evolution of such systems. The terms self-organizing and autonomous are often used interchangeably in relation to systems that use organic principles (self-configuration, self-healing, and so on) in their design and operation. In the specific case of system on chip (SoC) design, organic principles are clearly in the solution path for some of the most important challenges in areas like logic organization, data movement, circuits, and software. In this article, we start by providing a definition of the concept of self-organization as it applies to SoCs, explaining what it means and how it may be applied. We then provide a survey of the various recent papers, journal articles, and books on the subject and close by pointing out possible future directions, challenges and opportunities for self-organizing SoCs.
De La…

Uncertainty after the presidential elections in Mexico

Enrique Peña Nieto obtained the majority of votes on July 1st. However, there is huge evidence of electoral crimes committed by his party (paying people for votes, conditioning public services for votes, use of public resources for campaigns, etc.) and an obvious excess of campaign spending limits.

The Electoral Federal Court has to announce a result on the election by September 6th, with a large sector of the population demanding new elections, which would imply an interim president.

New draft: Measuring the Complexity of Ultra-Large-Scale Evolutionary Systems

Ultra-large scale (ULS) systems are becoming pervasive. They are inherently complex, which makes their design and control a challenge for traditional methods. Here we propose the design and analysis of ULS systems using measures of complexity, emergence, self-organization, and homeostasis based on information theory. We evaluate the proposal with a ULS computing system provided with genetic adaptation mechanisms. We show the evolution of the system with stable and also changing workload, using different fitness functions. When the adaptive plan forces the system to converge to a predefined performance level, the nodes may result in highly unstable configurations, that correspond to a high variance in time of the measured complexity. Conversely, if the adaptive plan is less "aggressive", the system may be more stable, but the optimal performance may not be achieved.

Measuring the Complexity of Ultra-Large-Scale Evolutionary Systems, Michele Amoretti, Carlos Gershenson. Submit…

Call for Papers: CASM Special Issue on Multidisciplinary Applications of Complex Networks Modeling, Simulation, Visualization & Analysis

CALL FOR PAPERS Complex Adaptive Systems Modeling Special Issue on Multidisciplinary Applications of Complex  Networks Modeling, Simulation, Visualization & Analysis
Complex Network methods for Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) have a widespread prevalence across literature spanning several disciplines from Biology and Social Sciences to Communication Networks. These network models are primarily developed using interaction data of various components or agents in a CAS. Subsequently analysis of these networks is performed using various network tools. This inaugural special issue of Springer Complex Adaptive Systems Modeling (CASM) comprises of papers in the domain of complex networks modeling, simulation, visualization and analysis. Deadline for submissions: 1st October 2012

Forgery by political parties in Mexico

In recent days, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) the presidential candidate from the Mexican left parties gave a jump in the polls (at least those which are not obviously biased). This was mainly because of the self-organized movement "#YoSoy132", initiated by students and now followed by thousands of people in all the country, mainly rejecting the imposition of a candidate by the media (Enrique Peña Nieto, EPN from PRI) and by the circles of power (even expresident Vicente Fox from PAN called to vote for him, obviously causing outrage in his party. The thing is that if AMLO wins, most probably he'll end un in jail).

Seeing the support for AMLO grow, the other two main parties (PRI and PAN) started a similar strategy to that of 2006, discrediting AMLO with a "dirty war". A few days ago each party released a TV spot where they forged in one case a conversation and in another an AMLO speech (video in Spanish here).

What can you expect from political parties pra…

Biased media & social networks in Mexico

The presidential elections in Mexico next July 1st are heating up the political landscape.

It has always been a tradition that most media support some candidate, in this case Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) from PRI, who is ahead in their questionable polls. However, the information spreading on social networks is something they still cannot control.

On Friday, May 11th, EPN went to the Universidad Iberoamericana, one of the most recognized private universities in the country, where the students demonstrated their rejection towards him. Of course, none of this was seen in most media, one newspaper even Photoshopping their frontpage picture:
However, with half the students filming every moment with their smartphones, the real deal spread like wildfire on social networks and youtube. One of the claims to EPN was a police operation in the town of Atenco in the outskirts of Mexico City, while EPN was governor of the State of Mexico. State and federal police arrested dozens of people, raped about…

Elections: Mexico 2012

I've been meaning to start posting about the upcoming presidential elections to be held in Mexico on July 1st. The current government of Felipe Caledrón (who began his presidency in 2006 amidst proofs of fraud) has been characterized by a stagnation of the economy and a war declared against (most of) the drug cartels, leading to at least 60,000 people killed so far. Only in Ciudad Juárez, we had ten times the murder rate than in Baghdad during the recent U.S. occupation. Last year, a complaint was filed at the International Court in The Hague against Felipe Calderón and others, accusing them of crimes against humanity.

The perspective is not positive for Calderón, since he cannot go abroad like other ex-presidents, and most probably his party (PAN) will lose the presidency, given the failures of the two previous presidents: Calderón and Vicente Fox (2000-2006).

The candidates:

Josefina Vázquez Mota "JVM" (PAN), former minister of education and leader of her party's gr…

New draft: Complexity and Information: Measuring Emergence, Self-organization, and Homeostasis at Multiple Scales

Concepts used in the scientific study of complex systems have become so widespread that their use and abuse has led to ambiguity and confusion in their meaning. In this paper we use information theory to provide abstract and concise measures of complexity, emergence, self-organization, and homeostasis. The purpose is to clarify the meaning of these concepts with the aid of the proposed formal measures. In a simplified version of the measures (focussing on the information produced by a system), emergence becomes the opposite of self-organization, while complexity represents their balance. We use computational experiments on random Boolean networks and elementary cellular automata to illustrate our measures at multiple scales.

Gershenson, C. & N. Fernández (2012). Complexity and Information: Measuring Emergence, Self-organization, and Homeostasis at Multiple Scales. C3 Report 2012.03.

The Past, Present and Future of Cybernetics and Systems Research

Summary of "The Past, Present and Future of Cybernetics and Systems Research"
Symposium M at European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR), Vienna, Austria, April 12, 2012.
Organizer: Carlos Gershenson

This guided reflection on the challenges and opportunities of cybernetics and systems research (CSR) included initial interventions by panelists Peter Erdi, Helena Knyazeva, Stefan Thurner, Peter Csermely, and Alexander Lazlo. Afterwards, the floor was opened to interventions from the general public and further interventions by panelists.

Commentaries were made from a broad variety of perspectives, but several general ideas can be distilled from the discussion. CSR have strongly influenced all scientific disciplines. As an example, the term "system" is used commonly in daily language. One of the breakthroughs of CSR lies in the search of commonalities across disciplines. Even when this was achieved to a certain degree, there is still a lack of a comm…

New draft: Learning, Social Intelligence and the Turing Test - why an "out-of-the-box" Turing Machine will not pass the Turing Test

Edmonds, B. & C. Gershenson (2012). Learning, Social Intelligence and the Turing Test - why an "out-of-the-box" Turing Machine will not pass the Turing Test. Invited talk at Turing Centenary Conference CiE 2012,
 special session on "The Turing Test and Thinking Machines". CPM Report No.: 12-215
Abstract: The Turing Test (TT) checks for human intelligence, rather than any putative general intelligence. It involves repeated interaction requiring learning in the form of adaption to the human conversation partner. It is a macro-level post-hoc test in contrast to the definition of a Turing Machine (TM), which is a prior micro-level definition. This raises the question of whether learning is just another computational process, i.e. can be implemented as a TM. Here we argue that learning or adaption is fundamentally different from computation, though it does involve processes that can be seen as computations. To illustrate this difference we compare (a) designing a TM a…

TEDxDF talk: Semáforos auto-organizantes

Last November I had the honor of participating in TEDxDF with a talk on self-organizing traffic lights. You can watch the video (in Spanish) at: or
Mejorar el transporte público de la Ciudad de México es una idea que a todos se nos ocurre, pero pocos hacemos algo al respecto. Este no es el caso de Carlos, un apasionado del estudio científico de la complejidad: ¿Cómo podemos diseñar componentes de un sistema para que, por medio de sus interacciones, realicen una función deseada a nivel del sistema? Con su ponencia Carlos responderá esta pregunta y expondrá ideas aplicables al DF para mejorar diversos medios de transporte, afectando positivamente la calidad de vida de la población.