Can complexity be used to anticipate conflicts? Yes. Here is the logic.

J. Marczyk Ph.D.:  A socio-economical system (essentially a society) grows and progresses towards states of higher complexity. This is true not only of societies but also of corporations, markets or ecosystems. Higher complexity means higher functionality, i.e. the system can accomplish more. The engine of this increase of complexity is the simultaneous creation of new structure and increase in entropy. While the former is in most cases intentional, the growth of entropy is consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy can also create structure, especially in early phases of development. In any case, the growth of complexity is both desired and inevitable. As we know, the Ontonix complexity metric shows that each dynamical system possesses an intrinsic upper limit to its own complexity. It cannot evolve beyond this limit, unless drammatic changes on the structure are imposed. But there is more. Close to this complexity threshold, a system becomes difficult to control and manage. Why? Because it develops a multitude of behavioral modes and – this is what makes things worse – it can often spontaneously jump from one mode to another without any early warning: we have just defined fragility. But if a system can suddenly change the way it behaves, it is vulnerable. Such systems are known as critically complex. In the vicinity of critical complexity life is very difficult. Things can easily run out of hand. Critically complex system have a great capacity to generate surprises. Both good and bad.

It is evident therefore why a society/country in the state of critical complexity is far more “open” to enter a state of conflict, such as civil war or simply declare war on a neighboring country. The conditions that a society must satisfy in order to switch to a conflict mode are multiple. As history teaches, there is no established pattern. Many factors concur. But it is clear that it is more difficult to take a well functioning and prosperous society to war than a fragile and entropy-rich one. In a society in which the entropy-saturated structure is eroded, the distance that separates a “peace mode” from a “conflict mode” is much smaller and switching is considerably easier. The idea, therefore, is to measure and track complexity region per region, country per country, and to keep an eye on those countries and regions where high complexity gradients are observed. Regions where complexity increases quickly are certainly candidates for social unrest or armed conflict. How can this be accomplished? What kind of data should be used? Good candidates are:

  • Birth-rate
  • Death-rate
  • Debt-external
  • Electricity-consumption
  • Electricity-production
  • Exports
  • GDP
  • GDP-per capita
  • GDP-real growth
  • Highways
  • Imports
  • Infant Mortality
  • Inflation rate
  • Internet users
  • Labor force
  • Life expectancy
  • Military expenses
  • Oil-consumption
  • Oil-prodution
  • Population
  • Telephones mobiles
  • Telephones-main lines
  • Total fertility rate
  • Unemployment rate
The list is of course incomplete, as there are tens of other indicators which must be taken into account. Such data must of course be gathered for every country/region and monitored over a certain time-span. Processing with OntoSpace yields the desired complexity measures per country/region. What you get, eventually, is a sort of ECG in which you carefully examine the peaks.

It is obvious that adopting specific indicators – which must of course be measurable – one can employ the above described technique to terror threat assessment too. It is clear where most of the terrorists originate from and there is no need for any particular analysis to realize that. What is however most difficult, is to identify under which conditions individuals who are, so to speak, integrated with our society, become terrorists (remember the London bombings?). Detailed complexity tracking and analysis of our own society can certainly provide some interesting insights in this sense.

J. Marczyk Ph.D.
Chief Technical Officer
Ontonix s.r.l. - Complex Systems Management  
tel: +39-0342-214784    cell: +39-333-6245944     fax: +39-0342-211743