FLINT & Mr. Decker's Complex adaptive system Yes? No?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

There has been some discussion about society in general being a complex adaptive system and therefore y2k problems will not be serious enough to become a cascade of faults. There were some analogies as well but somehow car doors seemed a little abstract.

I put forth my own analgoy for the purpose of framing the question.

Life on earth during the dinosaur age would qualify as a complex adaptive system. That system could not adapt entirely and the result is well known; hence the question.

Why can we think that our present system is flexible enough to avoid serious problems? Or, is it really flexible enough to overcome the brittle aspects of the problem?

I look forward to your comments.


-- Will (sibola@hotmail.com), May 29, 1999


Read Tom's Take, the InfoMagic sagas, James Burkes' Connections Series on TV, The Fall Of Rome for some background, sprinkle in a little Chaos Theory and you have the makings of another fine mess...

IMHO the "tipping point" has almost been reached y2k or not, this coming singularity will be the point of no return for some of us...

time will tell

111 working days to go and NO evidence worldwide points to a successful outcome...


Two digits. One mechanism. The smallest mistake.

"The conveniences and comforts of humanity in general will be linked up by one mechanism, which will produce comforts and conveniences beyond human imagination. But the smallest mistake will bring the whole mechanism to a certain collapse. In this way the end of the world will be brought about."

Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, 1922 (Sufi Prophet)

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), May 29, 1999.

>>>>> Read Tom's Take, the InfoMagic sagas, James Burkes' Connections Series on TV, The Fall Of Rome for some background, sprinkle in a little Chaos Theory and you have the makings of another fine mess... >>>>>

Andy I would sprinkle alot of Chaos Theory. I would like to spend sometime on this thread but it is far to nice outside to be at a computer so I am going to fix up my trailer a bit. Plus reading about Ed leaving the public eye has my mind wondering a bit.

Chaos Theory and Y2K Interesting topic.

-- Brian (imager@home.com), May 29, 1999.

Today I find myself agreeing with Andy more than I usually do. I see no reason why remediation can or will speed up or become more efficient. There is of course considerable doubt as to just where remediation stands, sometimes even among those involved in a specific project. But I don't doubt there will be horror stories, and multiple chains of unfortunate circumstances. For all too many people, Murphy will decide it just isn't their lucky day.

What complex adaptive systems do is adapt. Right now, there isn't a whole lot to adapt to, beyond fixing and testing systems. I cannot imagine what sorts of circumstances we'll each face later (and I don't believe you can either), so I can hardly guess what we'll do about them. I know we'll all do *something*, and hopefully most of what we do will make things better rather than worse. For many if not most of us, I predict our priorities will change -- for some of us, they'll change a *lot*.

Maybe I'll feel more upbeat tomorrow, but Ed is one of my heroes, and today he's got me depressed.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 1999.

I reposted this here, it seemed to fit the thread better.

Flint said- As a result, the more pessimistic tend to argue their position by means of the "want of a nail" sequences. The fundamental problem with this analysis is that if it were even slightly true, a modern economy wouldn't be workable at all. Because there are constant failures and breakdowns, many of them in key places. The "all is connected" theory would hold that these breakdowns would cripple the economy. We can even show how this happens in detail. Except in real life, it doesn't happen.-

In the microcosm, 'want of a nail' DOES apply and brings systems down frequently. I would argue that the 'want of a nail' scenario has not brought down this complex civilization precisely because of its complex, adaptive nature. This does not preclude such a possibility, however. By definition, a complex system must be able to adapt to numerous assaults in order to survive. Our civilization certainly meets this criterium.

Numerous does not mean infinite of course. Aye there's the rub.

I think the best analogy both to the system and to individual understanding of it is the human body. The most complex system of them all multiple redundancies, parallel systems and backups. A mammalian body can withstand incredible chaos, indeed life by definition is the ability to withstand Newton's Second Law effectively.

Here is where I believe the analogy to understanding y2k applies. The constant assaults on the success of our society's organization are below the awareness threshold. Likewise, most of the millions of assaults on our physical organization and its ability to function are COMPLETELY UNKOWN TO US. We are aware of only the small percentage that is sufficiently powerful to make us ill and this is a very small percentage indeed.

It happens below our consciousness thousands and thousands of times each and every day. Once in a while a threat is serious enough to make us ill. Most of these are handled and we get well again, the miracle of an adaptive system at work. The common mistake is in believing that the illness episodes constitute the bulk of the assaults, this is not true.

In actual fact, assaults on our bodies fall into three basic categories, 1) below the threshold of SYSTEMIC response and hence awareness 2) above that threshold but below system collapse (ie illness) 3) sufficient to collapse the system ( death )

The assaults that fall into category two are a very, very small percentage. Percentage wise most attacks on the complex system that is life either don't affect it at all at the macro level, or destroy it. The middle ground seems large to us only because it occupies our attention. It is in fact quite small, as I fear the middle ground in y2k may be. That doesn't mean y2k won't make us sick, we puke our guts out and get well, merely that that possibility occupies a narrow range in the spectrum of all possibilities.

The question is how complex is our society really? The more complex, the more powerful but also ironically, in many ways,the more fragile it is. The steeper the slope from functioning to failure. Simple organisms are often much harder to kill that ones with a complex system of systems. Cut a planaria in half and it keeps on trucking and regrows a new end! Marie Antoinette would have liked that ability. I'm sure.

We need to hope that the complexity we sense isn't really there.

And there are choke points of course, oxygen being the most critical. Stop it, and the magnificently adaptive machine ceases in short order.

The argument that failures occur in computer systems everyday and we survive says nothing meaningful regarding this threat. The assumption that we will muddle through, while certainly possible and certainly to be hoped and prayed for, does not account for as large a number of the possible outcomes as is commonly believed.



-- Will Huett (willhuett@usa.net), May 29, 1999.

Thank you Flint and no I don't presume to know what will unfold, that would require omnipotence. I agree with you as well it's black and we can't see. Seems like a good time to hold hands and keep talking.

Now if Mr. Decker would just show up.

-- Will (sibola@hotmail.com), May 29, 1999.

After one of Infomagic's scenario's made it into one of the D.C. Weather Reports, Bruce Webster, a Y2K authority in his own right and hardly what you would call an optimist, countered with just this kind of argument: complex systems adapt, and we should expect that Y2K, serious though it is, is not going to be TEOTWAWKI, because of this ability to adapt.

Infomagic subsequently countered Webster's reasoning with essentially the following simple point: complex systems need TIME to adapt, they cannot do so instantaneously. Y2K will, for all intents and purposes, be a horrendous, disasterous event that will happen nearly instantaneously. THEREFORE, THERE WILL BE NO TIME FOR OUR COMPLEX SYSTEM TO ADAPT!

-- King of Spain (madrid@aol.com), May 29, 1999.


You and Infomagic are quite correct. Adaptive systems take time to adapt, and cannot do so instantaneously. The error is in failing to grasp the nature of adaptation.

The hundreds of billions spent remediating are adaptations. The fact that new development includes no (or almost no) date bugs is an adaptation. The most difficult, time-consuming part of this ongoing adaptation was the glacial awareness curve, but that was climbed (for the most part) a couple of years back. The preparations those here (and many who have never heard of this forum) are making, are adaptations. The manufacturers of previously low-demand products like generators and wood stoves are gearing up production as a result, and this is an adaptation as well. It's hardly the case that nobody will lift a finger until the actual bugs strike.

I suggest you look up Infomagic's predictions (and maybe even list them here, for those not familiar with them). He said the stock market would be thoroughly crashed by now. He said bank runs would already be history and the banking system would be dead. He said shortages would be everywhere. On and on.

Of course, now he's backtracked, and he's claiming that because his calamities haven't even begun to happen yet, this can only mean they'll be worse later. Meanwhile, whole industries are putting the finishing touches on their adaptations all around him, and will be until rollover, after which we all suffer the fallout from those who don't get close enough for whatever reason. But date bugs aren't quite like being hit by a comet. Even Gartner is saying 70% of functionality will be restored within three days. Imagine that.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 1999.

Flint said

"I suggest you look up Infomagic's predictions (and maybe even list them here, for those not familiar with them). He said the stock market would be thoroughly crashed by now. He said bank runs would already be history and the banking system would be dead. He said shortages would be everywhere."

It is my contention that there are forces behind the scenes (The Fed, the major money centre banks, the "elite" if you will) that are manipulating the markets, the hedge funds, the price of gold, the media - all conspiring in tandem to their own ends.

At some point in time it is their intention for there to be a "shakeout" - that time is almost upon us. That it is coming financially I have no doubt whatsoever. The military aspects alone are most worrying - you ain't seen nothing yet.

Milne and InfoMagic are right - because the crash and awareness just has NOT happened yet, when it does happen, prior to or post rollover, it will be MAGNITUDES worse. This is really a no-brainer. All you can do now is sort out your own situation, sit back and watch events unfold on this EOD rollercoaster.


-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), May 29, 1999.


Too bad we can never compare what does happen with what might have happened. History, sadly, has no control group.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 1999.

Let me get this, Flint. A problem that the vast, overwhelming majority of people barely know about, much less are doing anything about, is nevertheless in the process of "adaption"(??) due to increased ramping up of products like generators for the very FEW people that are concerned and planning to buy them???!!!!??? Are you suggesting that there exists something like "subliminal adaption"???!!!!!???

As far as the 3-day story goes: Well, first of all, it is laughable. But, extending onto this notion of "adaption", does this ridiculously short period that Y2K problems will occur now perhaps threaten civilization because the "subliminal adaption" was essentially unnecessary???

(Gawd, conversing with pollys is making my head hurt! No wonder Ed is throwing in the towel!!)

-- King of Spain (madrid@aol.com), May 29, 1999.


If you really tried to converse, rather than deliberately distort, your head would feel much better.

I agree the vast majority of people are only hazily aware. So what? Remediation isn't done by the vast majority of people, it's done by a small minority with specific jobs and specific skills. *Those* people are hard at work, and have been for some time. Indeed, the demand for those skills and people is winding down now.

The essence of the division of labor is that a great many people rely on what a few people do. I may very well have written some of the code built into the computer you're using. And the computer serves your purposes even though you were utterly unaware of all those whose efforts went into designing and building it. People fix problems all the time, which would affect many if they didn't. But they do, so the many never hear about it. This isn't subliminal, this is normal.

(I shudder at the thought of the 'vast majority' mucking around with computer code)

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 1999.

Yes Flint,

it sure would be nice to compare notes after rollover. My feeling is that it will be so bad that we will be lucky to have an internet, JIT food deliveries, petrol, water and power.

If the power stays up we WILL muddle through **eventually** but a great many will die during these rolling brownouts and blackouts, during food and welfare riots, during the cold winters in the North and Midwest, during the population centre firestorms. If the infrastructure starts to break down we will not know what is happening, radio and tv and the news media will also be adversely affected. We may never know the whole truth if it goes even remotely InfoMagic.

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), May 29, 1999.


We'll never know the whole truth period. We never do. And y2k will be worse in that respect than normal -- I doubt historians will agree in 50 years, or even come close.

I have my doubts about the riots, the freezing and the firestorms. And I expect we will be able to compare notes in a year. And although I doubt our notes will agree then anymore than they do now, I'll make a prediction right now:

Both of us will be saying "I told you so."

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 1999.

Excellent conversation people, thank you all. "Immeasureable risk" is the phrase that comes to mind after reading the comments. No wonder people who argue from the positive still prepare accordingly, right Flint? Definitely worth rolling up one's sleeves to exert some control over the individual's circumstances, am I right?

I'm thinking of the word brittle which I used in the original question. One power spike takes out your furnace fan, now with gas and power still on your pipes will burst and freeze unless drained and on and on.

-- Will (sibola@hotmail.com), May 29, 1999.

Flint says, "both of us will be saying I told you so". (ha) Here's MY prediction Flint: Andy will find you rolled up in a fetal position in a dark corner of your shed, mumbling to yourself as the rioting outside creates fires burning out of control. You do have a shed don't you?

-- Will continue (farming@home.com), May 30, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ