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This is an old revision of AdaptationWiki made by AliOli on 2012-06-28 22:42:15.

Adaptation Wiki


Welcome to the Adaptation Wiki! I've chosen this medium over more conventional ones, such as writing a paper or producing a video, for three reasons. First of all, since wikis are based on hypertext, they are also inherently networks of pages, which of course matches the theme of the conference. Secondly, papers and videos are linear media, which are biased towards creating closure on an issue. On the contrary, wikis are never finished, and I hope for this one to be a conversation starter. Finally, since I started working with wikis five years ago, I've been pleasantly surprised by how easy it can be to link the thoughts of different people in a way that does not exclude dissent.

I won't discuss my previous study experiences with networks extensively, but since we haven't really introduced ourselves yet, I'll mention some of them briefly. In 2007 I was studying Industrial Design Engineering in Delft, where I had the opportunity to explore whether a wiki could be used to provide designers with highly relevant information and knowledge. This subject interested me much more than working on consumer products, and I thus decided to pursue my studies elsewhere. At this time it also became clear to me that the future seemed very uncertain, and hence I enrolled for Future Planet Studies in Amsterdam, an interdisciplinary approach for gaining insight into the 'complex challenges' that humanity finds itself confronted with.

For the final project there, I designed a system which could connect stakeholders that deal with food and/or organic waste to increase food security and recycle nutrients. This was only possible by viewing a food system as a social network. My interest is, however, not limited to networking people. For my thesis in Information Studies, I'm currently working on a Linked Data (Bizer, Heath, & Berners-Lee, 2009) model for book lists that will allow social book cataloging applications (e.g. Goodreads) exchange the creations of their users with each other and with library systems. I will gladly expand on these topics if anyone finds them relevant.


In the Adaptation working group, we concern ourselves with how decentralized networks respond to change. If your interest in this topic continues after this conference - and hopefully will be fueled by it - I imagine that you will, in one way or another, come into contact with the FuturICT EU research project (see FuturICT, 2012). It is a well funded and ambitious project, that has recently started to set up an international 'laboratory' that will facilitate the collection of hitherto unimagined amounts of empirical data from complex networks. Video 1 gives a basic introduction of the aims of the FuturICT project.

Video 1: A basic introduction of the FuturICT project.

FuturICT aims to contribute to "strengthening our societies' adaptiveness, resilience, and sustainability". This phrasing makes clear that FuturICT's approach is not limited to studying the structure of networks; the properties of networks which are either timeless or based on a 'snapshot' that is taken during a limited time span (see Newman, 2010). A structural property that is related to resilience is the robustness of a network (ibid., pp. 197). The properties of adaptiveness, resilience, and sustainability, in contrast, depend on processes which must be studied over time, and on which scientific progress has been slow (ibid., pp. 591). A conceptual terminology that is highly relevant has been introduced under the name Resilience Thinking (Walker & Salt, 2006), but it is an open challenge to apply these concepts in a formal or mathematical way. Especially the concepts of regimes, thresholds, and adaptive cycles seem relevant in studying adaptation.

Understanding Ants and People

The study of social systems as networks is relatively recent. Many of the concepts and techniques that are used to do this, have been previously developed to study biological and physical systems. In order to study adaptation for networks in general, the interaction networks within and between ant colonies can serve as a prototypical example that may shed light on dynamic properties of networks in general (Gordon, 2010). We can at least examine whether the generalizations that are made by Gordon hold in other domains. I found the following statements from the first chapters most valuable:

  1. "An ant's response to a chemical cue was not fixed, but depended on what the ant was doing." (Gordon, 2010, pp. 7)
  2. "There are always dense webs of contingency in systems of interacting parts." (ibid., pp. 10)
  3. "Living systems are unique [because] they cause their own development and activity." (ibid., pp. 10-11)
  4. "All complex biological systems have in common that without central control, local interactions among the parts produce coordinated behavior of the whole." (ibid., pp. 19).
  5. "[E]mergent phenomena do not occur by magic." We call them emergent because we do not sufficiently understand through which processes these phenomena come about. (ibid., pp. 20)
  6. "There are many ways to describe any system; many different models could describe the same behavior." (ibid., pp. 22)
  7. "Ants react to two kinds of external information: changes in the outside world and interactions with each other." (ibid., pp. 37)
  8. "The pattern of interaction itself, rather than any signal transferred, acts as the message." (ibid., pp. 47-48)

Gordon's remark about 'the message' has a special relevance to me, as someone involved in information studies. She expresses an understanding of the limits of the mathematical model of communication that has been so successful in engineering disciplines. This model, that was proposed by the engineer Claude Shannon (reproduced in Figure 1), suffers from the use of 'the conduit metaphor' of communication (Bryant, 2008). The [w:conduit metaphor] is misleading and misconceived for its focus on "signal", but is unfortunately also widespread and influential (ibid., pp. 63).


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