Saturday, May 5, 2007

Complex Systems and Autonomy

This blog is “moving” very slowly because I am currently much more involved with the theme “Information flow and Enterprise architecture”. I am currently working on Social Networks, and it turns out that there are a number of themes which are equally relevant to my two research interests.
For instance:

  • I will soon post a review of Robert Axelrod’s book “The Complexity of Cooperation”, which could appear in both my blogs. This book introduces a few key concepts, such as the use of game theory and genetic algorithms to study patterns of (stable) cooperation.
  • I attended a few sessions of the conference on “Complex Systems”, which I thought was appropriate considering that DIS (Distributed Information Systems) are indeed complex systems, and it turns out that social networks, including those that represent the information flows within a company, are the focus of “complex system approaches” as well. The 7th PCRD has made “socially intelligent IT” a hot priority.

My program nowadays is mostly to continue my education and read books. I will give a lecture in October for which I would like to extend the OAI research I have already talked about. More precisely, here are the two directions that I will pursue this summer when I resume my experimentation work:

  1. Explore different scales and designs of systems to see what kind of influence they have on the behaviour of “smart” routing rules for process control (through message passing). Most of the experiences that I have made so fare try to reproduce business processes from Bouygues Telecom. Since I am using different “Enterprise Simulation Scenarios” in my SIFOA experiments, I plan to reuse this modelling effort. By scale & design, I mostly mean the number of processes, the number of tasks and systems involved in a process, and the interaction topology induced by the SOA architecture.
  2. Try to model the handling of exceptions, that is, to model the alternate processing path which is used once a component is unavailable to deliver a business process. The difficulty here is that it is often an ad hoc approach (cf. my papers and my books). On the other hand, with the current trend of virtualization, more systematic alternate approaches will become available. I attended an interesting lecture on Autonomic computing from IBM which made the obvious-but-profound point that there is no autonomy without choice, and that choice comes (mostly, in the world of IT) from virtualization. There is little room for improving the handling of exceptional situations and failures with autonomic computing if a traditional architecture (hard links between dedicated resources) is used. On the other hand, in a virtualized world, there are many interesting options (hence a choice) when a server becomes unavailable.

This means that I am currently focusing on the points (1) and (2) of my previous list.
Following the suggestion from Cedric Nicolas, I just read “the age of spiritual machines” from Ray Kurzweil. It is a fascinating book, with very insightful thoughts, especially about consciousness and intelligence in a machine (or a network of). I am less enthusiastic about his prediction of the future (2009-2019-2099), but it is only a fourth of the book and the first three quarters are enlightening. I will return to the topic of consciousness when I post a review of Kevin Kelly’s book. I also finished a book from Jean-Claude Ameiesen, “La sculture du vivant” (following a suggestion from Pierre Haren) which is totally different (a biology book about programmed self-destruction of cells) but equally fascinating. This type of biology book makes it even more convincing that large scale man-made systems must draw their inspiration from living organisms. There are a number of mechanisms designed to yield both stability and flexibility/adaptability (somehow antagonistic) which are worth reproducing.

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