Showing posts from 2008

W. Ross Ashby Digital Archive

The W. Ross Ashby Digital Archive has been recently launched. Ashby was one of the most prominent Cyberneticians. His work has been only recently rediscovered, which includes great contributions to the study of the brain, systems, adaptation, and self-organization. He has been an inspiration for my work on self-organizing systems.

The digital archive includes Ashby's journal, biographies, pictures, bibliography, a few letters (I didn't know that he was acquainted with Turing...), and aphorisms (one of my weak spots (in need of an update)). A couple of them that I liked especially:
A "system" is a set of variables sufficiently isolated to stay [constant] long enough for us to discuss it.
Science is the Observer's Digest.

Traffic work featured in IEEE intelligent systems

Work I did together with Seung Bae Cools was featured in the November/December 2008 issue of IEEE Intelligent Systems:
The second story, "Autonomous Agents Take On City Driving," reports on current uses of AI technology to improve urban traffic flow.
See the full text here (click on PDF on the right).

You can find details of this work on Chapter 5 of my PhD thesis.

Single World Currency?

I was wondering the other day: what would happen if there was a single currency throughout the world? Who would benefit? Who would lose? Is it a sensible idea? It seems to have been good for the Euro zone, but there are not that many disparities between the member states.

Searching a bit online, I quickly found: it is an interesting idea, but will it be worth the effort?

New Book: Complexity: 5 Questions

This volume consists of short, interview-style contributions by leading figures in the field of complexity, based on five questions. The answers trace their personal experience and expose their views on the definition, aspects, problems and future of complexity.

The aim of the book is to bring together the opinions of researchers with different backgrounds on the emerging study of complex systems. In this way, we will see similarities and differences, agreements and debates among the approaches of different schools.

Contributors: Peter M. Allen, Philip W. Anderson, W. Brian Arthur, Yaneer Bar-Yam, Eric Bonabeau, Paul Cilliers, Jim Crutchfield, Bruce Edmonds, Nigel Gilbert, Hermann Haken, Francis Heylighen, Bernardo A. Huberman, Stuart A. Kauffman, Seth Lloyd, Gottfried Mayer-Kress, Melanie Mitchell, Edgar Morin, Mark Newman, Grégoire Nicolis, Jordan B. Pollack, Peter Schuster, Ricard V. Solé, Tamás Vicsek, Stephen Wolfram.

Get it at

Check out more books from the 5 Questions seri…

Go Obama!

Why people should vote for Obama?

Well, better the other way around: the only reason I can think of for people not voting for him is racism.

A few months ago, I went to a doctor. He had been a pilot in WWII, made his way up the hard way, complained about the American youth. When I told that I hoped that Obama would be the next U.S. president, he was amazed: "What have black people done for this country?!". I was puzzled and amazed. I won't attempt to answer his question here (Michael Jackson?). He continued: "we need someone like McCain, to protect us from the Russians." One could think that the age of the doctor would explain his anti-Russian sentiment, but actually it is quite generalized, after almost 20 years of the end of the cold war. On the one hand, Russians have better things to do than to "threaten" the USA. On the other hand, there are much more dangers for the U.S. citizens coming from within, starting with incompetent leaders and ending wit…

New Paper: The Sigma Profile: A Formal Tool to Study Organization and its Evolution at Multiple Scales

The Sigma Profile: A Formal Tool to Study Organization and its Evolution at Multiple ScalesAbstract: The σ profile is presented as a tool to analyze the organization of systems at different scales, and how this organization changes in time. Describing structures at different scales as goal-oriented agents, one can define σ ("satisfaction") as the degree to which the goals of each agent at each scale have been met. σ reflects the organization degree at that scale. The σ profile of a system shows the satisfaction at different scales, with the possibility to study their dependencies and evolution. It can also be used to extend game theoretic models. A general tendency on the evolution of complexity and cooperation naturally follows from the σ profile. Experiments on a virtual ecosystem are used as illustration.

[Full paper]

Self-organization at the Olympiad: The Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony

The impressive opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games exploited considerably the concept of self-organization in a very artistic fashion.

To start the ceremony, 2008 drummers entered the stadium.

Their drums and sticks had lights, so when the lights went out, beautiful patterns were formed. Then a countdown started (to 2008/08/08, 8:08 pm), and huge numbers were traveling through the drummers across the field in perfect synchronization: 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10. Then the last seconds were very quickly displayed with arabic and chinese numbers.

Later, in the middle of the field a huge movable-type printer started generating beautiful waves and dynamic patterns, including the kanji for harmony.
Which technology did they use for such an amazing and coordinated display? Well, humans, of course...

Another amazing performance was given by 2008 tai chi masters.
They were generating circles and spirals and moving all around in a perfectly coordinated fashion.

How did they achieve all this?…

More Fractal Tessellations

Following the Fractal Tessellation inspired by the Alhambra, I made a few more: here's one with octagons, and another with curved triangles...

Can Ants Solve Traffic Jams?

I was among the researchers consulted for the production of this Slate video...

Evolution of Complexity: Special Issue Published

A special issue on the "Evolution of Complexity" I co-edited with Tom Lenaerts was just published in Artificial Life14(3):
Editorial Introduction Evolution of Complexity Carlos Gershenson, Tom LenaertsArtificial Life Summer 2008, Vol. 14, No. 3: 241–243. First Page | PDF (55 KB) | PDF Plus (57 KB)Articles Hierarchical Self-Organization in the Finitary Process Soup Olof Görnerup, James P. CrutchfieldArtificial Life Summer 2008, Vol. 14, No. 3: 245–254. Abstract | PDF (211 KB) | PDF Plus (217 KB)On the Gradual Evolution of Complexity and the Sudden Emergence of Complex Features Charles Ofria, Wei Huang, Eric TorngArtificial Life Summer 2008, Vol. 14, No. 3: 255–263. Abstract | PDF (180 KB) | PDF Plus (189 KB)The Emergence of Overlapping Scale-free Genetic Architecture in Digital Organisms P. Gerlee, T. LundhArtificial Life Summer 2008, Vol. 14, No. 3: 265–275. Abstract | PDF (270 KB) | PDF Plus (253 KB)LinMap: Visualizing Complexity Gradients in Evolutionary…

People Working Together

I designed this pattern for a T-shirt of the New England Complex Systems Institute. I took the NECSI logo, which represents five "people working together". Then I overlayed different sizes of it over patterns of a Penrose tiling, which is a tesselation with five-fold symmetry. In other words, it fills the space without repeating itself. Since the logo appears of different sizes, I see this pattern as "people working together at different scales".

You can find a high resolution PDF here.

Fractal Tessellation

A couple of years ago, while living in Granada, I got inspired by the Moorish patterns at the Alhambra. Playing around with Inkscape, I came up with the idea of a Sierpiński-style fractal that would be more interesting and also tileable. Only recently I put several tiles together, and I was amazed to see that there were more and more patterns emerging as tiles interacted... I can spend hours finding patterns in this image... I should get these tiles for my bathroom...

You can find a high resolution PDF here.

Self-organizing traffic lights in Flanders

Francis sent me a link to an article from the newspaper De Morgen (in Dutch), where they mention a simulation of the Wetstraat (a main avenue in Brussels) where my student Seung Bae Cools implemented self-organizing traffic light controllers I developed. The news are that the Flemish parlament wants to approve the implementation of self-organizing traffic lights in busy intersections in Flanders. They hope to approve budget for a pilot study this year. Those are good news!

You can find more details about this work in my PhD thesis. It seems that the media coverage had its effect.

From know-what to know-where

One measure of people's knowledge is the amount of information that a person can come up with. In the "old" days, this information would come mainly out of your head. From experience, you can know what things are, e.g. facts, dates, etc. With a good memory, you can reproduce much learned information. Add reasoning, and you can combine your experiences to produce novel information and know how things work. Thus, people will have more knowledge if they are able to store and manipulate information. This was the game humankind played... until a decade ago. Blame it on Google.

What is the use of memorizing information when you can find it in an instant? Before you had to go to a library to search for information, so it was a big advantage to have a good memory. Now remembering and reasoning are not enough. You need to know where to find information. Certainly, this does not displace reasoning, only encyclopedic memory. The thing is that having such an accessible information re…

Evidence for Cyclic Universe

When I was in high school I read a book by Stephen Hawking, which stimulated me to develop my own theory of the universe. Still in my teens I wrote about it and presented these ideas at a conference in Mexico in 1997.

It was funny more than a decade afterwards to find about this paper by Aurich et al. They analyzed cosmic microwave background radiation and suggest that the universe is cyclic... same as I did. Let's see how the community responds to their results.

Book Review Published: "Self-Organization and Emergence in Life Sciences"

Gershenson, C. (2008). Book Review: "Self-Organization and Emergence in Life Sciences", edited by Bernard Feltz, Marc Crommelinck and Philippe Goujon. Artificial Life14 (2):239-240.


Self-organization and emergence have received much attention in biology and artificial life [1, 2, 4, 5], even though these pervasive concepts have eluded strict definition [3]. This makes the contributions contained in this interdisciplinary volume relevant to many aspects of artificial life.
The book consists of three parts, dedicated to the scientific approach, the historical approach, and the epistemological and conceptual approaches,
The study of self-organization and emergence is still in development, and although this volume is worthwhile for those familiar with the field, a definitive introduction has yet to be written. This volume is not recommended as a first reading on the topic, as the articles are at the discussion level. It is certainly recommended for people doing a…

New Aphorisms

“Sciences, not even the hardest ones, are not purely objective, nor arts are purely subjective...”

“We can access reality only through models/metaphors”

“The more you scream, the less I'll hear”

“So few intelligent people, so many wise guys...”

“Belief in an absolute truth leads to intolerance”

“Is it me, or is it the context?”

“Nature brings us closer to ourselves”

“To fool others, you need to fool yourself first, thus becoming a fool”

*“The easiest way to cope with complexity is not having it”

“A failure is not that awful if you learn something from it”

*“People fear/hate other nations only when they don't know them”

*“If only cars were fueled by road rage...”

“The first step to understand people is to accept them as they are”

“Everybody is special. You just need to observe carefully...”

You can find more aphorisms here.

Sistemas Auto-organizantes

I recently did a short article on self-organizing systems (in Spanish) for a general audience, which was recently published by La Jornada (Mexican newspaper)...
Parvadas, cardúmenes, manadas y colonias de insectos funcionan por medio de mecanismos similares. No hay un animal líder dictando ordenes a otros. Sin embargo, tomas de decisiones muy complejas pueden realizarse por el grupo. Esto se debe a que los animales, aunque sigan reglas simples en su comportamiento, interactúan localmente de forma tal que en su conjunto pueden lograr tareas que los individuos por sí mismos no podrían realizar. Este fenómeno, donde los elementos de un sistema interactúan para producir un comportamiento, patrón o función globales, se conoce como auto-organización.Read more...

Carbon Taxing?

In this TED Talk, Al Gore argues for global action to face global crisis. The proposed solution: tax carbon. In theory, it sounds like a good option. However, how to bring it to reality? How many changes in economies would this produce? Certainly, companies would be tempted to use renewable energy sources, and these would become a great market. However, oil companies hold much of the power behind curtains. Could a social movement achieve this change? Could this be effectively implemented in most countries? What to do with countries who would not tax their carbon emissions? This huge change wouldn't be the end of the world, certainly, but such a drastic transformation seems almost impossible. Well, let's fight for this almost impossibility, otherwise we'll be sitting on our fat behinds waiting for catastrophes to force the transformation.

Brain doping? Is it ethical?

Nature published the results of a poll where they asked researchers about drug use to boost their brains. It turns out that from their respondents, "one in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory", even when half of drug users reported unpleasant side-effects.

Now, here I have only questions: Should drug use in science be restricted, just like in sports? If so, the main reason for doing it would be the health of users, "fairness" in "competition", or simply ethics? A problem here is to draw a boundary line, just like with sports. Many people have coffee, tea, or chocolate, and it boosts their performance. The thing is that it is legal and socially acceptable, plus the side effects are minor... Would there be any sense in anti-doping tests for scientists? If so, and a test comes positive, how could this affect their research?

OK, I don't have answers, but I do have opinions... I …

Oil Privatization Attempts in Mexico

Yesterday, an energetic reform was presented by Felipe Calderón (aka FeCal) to the Mexican senate. It attempts to modify several laws, although these changes violate the constitution. Using fallacies of prosperity for Mexico, the right wing government is attempting to privatize the extraction, transport, and refining of oil and gas.
Many arguments and passions and interests can be put forward, but let us simply note the following fact: Oil is the first source of income for Mexico (followed by money sent by more than ten million immigrants in the U.S. to their families, and tourism in third place). The cost of a Mexican oil barrel is around $85 these days, but its production is less than ten. The difference is used to pay for public education, health services, social security, etc. (as deficient as they may be). I fail to see how transmitting this profit to private foreign companies (such as Repsol, Exxon, Texaco, who have already shown obscure and questionable ties to FeCal's team)…

Vida Artificial

I recently did a short article on Artificial Life (in Spanish) for a general audience, which was recently published by La Jornada (Mexican newspaper)...
La Vida Artificial es el estudio científico de las propiedades de sistemas vivos por medio de simulación y/o síntesis. Dado que la vida es un fenómeno muy complejo, observarla no es suficiente para comprenderla. Hay que simularla y construirla. En otras palabras, hay que desarrollar sistemas que modelen las propiedades biológicas, para así analizar y estudiar la vida por medio de nuestros sistemas artificiales.Read more...

Epistemological Perspectives on Simulation

Call for papersIII Edition of
Epistemological Perspectives on Simulation - A Cross-Disciplinary Workshop

October 2-3, 2008
Lisbon University Institute - ISCTE, Portugal
The methodological role and epistemological status of simulation merits more attention from researchers across the social, natural, and computational sciences, as well as from philosophers of science. While the epistemological status of simulation has received considerable interest from the natural sciences since the 1990s, it seems to have emerged in the social sciences only in the last five years due to the increasing use of simulation in concrete problems and public policy, across a variety of fields, and its crucial role for theorizing, modelling, and understanding social complexity. The interest in the methodological role of simulation, from the social to the natural sciences, shows that simulation is becoming a discipline spanning a number of fields, with its own dilemmas, metho…

How big a molecule???

Researchers from the Venter Institute recently synthesized an entire genome. Not too big, just 582,970–base pairs. They first synthesized pieces and then "stitched" them together into a larger one, then larger ones together, and so on. I wonder, how big a DNA molecule could you make? Usually long proteins such as DNA tend to fold into complex shapes, but chromosomes are actually single molecules that can be seen under a not so posh microscope. Could DNA molecules visible to the naked eye be made? If so, what would be their properties? Solid? Springy? Would they be stable?

There are already visible molecules: nanotubes, graphite sheets, and diamonds, which have quite unique properties. Would huge DNA molecules have also interesting properties up the sleeve?

The Ultimate Future of Artificial Life?

My friend Clément recently uploaded this preprint:
Vidal, C. (2008). "The Ultimate Future of Artificial Life: Towards Artificial Cosmogenesis". arXiv 0803.1087.Among other things, he explores a possible solution to the heat death problem, i.e. our universe will die as its energy dissipates and will reach thermodynamical equilibrium. This is to create a new universe, not necessarily in simulation, but a brand new physical universe.

I agree with some of his ideas, but not with others. E.g. he believes that OUR universe was created by a higher civilization (otherwise why all the cosmological constants are just right for life? this is known as the fine tuning problem), while I believe in natural selection at all scales. But anyway, that is not even in the paper (gladly, since it smells of intelligent design...), but remains from our discussions on the topic. I'll just list the obstacles I find in the creation of a universe from ours:
Even when Moore's law has increased the…

Art of the commons?

Mauro told us about DevantArt. It is a website where users can upload their own art to share, choosing which type of license they'll have. It is becoming easier and easier to produce and distribute content generated by anybody. The only problem now is to navigate through the more than 50 million "deviations" that have been uploaded since 2000...

I already uploaded some of my own here... (much more on my homepage...)

This is one of the main features of Web 2.0, where any user can generate content, e.g. Wikipedia, Flickr, Blogger, etc. A nice follow-up from the Open Source movement. Where will it continue? Already people are moving to provide Open Access to science and all types of knowledge...
Knowledge is power! Knowledge to the people!

Paper Published: Towards Self-Organizing Bureaucracies

International Journal of Public Information Systems
Vol. 2008:1, pp. 1-24Towards Self-Organizing Bureaucracies

Author: Carlos GershensonKeywords: eGovernment, self-organization, adaptation, communication, hierarchiesAbstract
The goal of this paper is to contribute to eGovernment efforts, encouraging the use of self-organization as a method to improve the efficiency and adaptability of bureaucracies and similar social systems. Bureaucracies are described as networks of agents, where the main design principle is to reduce local "friction" to increase local and global "satisfaction". Following this principle, solutions are proposed for improving communication within bureaucracies, sensing public satisfaction, dynamic modification of hierarchies, and contextualization of procedures. Each of these reduces friction between agents (internal or external), increasing the efficiency of bureaucracies. Current technologies can be applied for this end. "Random agent networks…

Pangea Day, May 10th


My brother told me a couple of palindromes he recently came up with (in Spanish).

This one is a phonetic palindrome, and the middle part is a palindrome itself (could we call this a recursive palindrome?):
Adan es "one" ke solo soy rebazo mínimo saber yo sólo sé ke no sé nadaAnd this one is more interesting, as it is two dimensional:


Sharing wireless networks... in your car

I recently watched Robin Chase's talk on She is the founder of Zipcar, Goloco, and Meadow Networks. Great ideas for reducing carbon emissions, traffic, and improving quality of life... I wonder whether Zipcar would work in Mexico City...

International Workshop on Nonlinear Dynamics and Synchronization (INDS’08)

First International Workshop on nonlinear dynamics and synchronization
July18-19, 2008 (Klagenfurt, Austria)

The First International Workshop on Nonlinear Dynamics and
Synchronization (INDS’08) is a two-day international workshop bringing
together international researchers, developers and practitioners from
different horizons to discuss the latest advances in nonlinear dynamics
and synchronization. INDS’08 will serve as a forum to present current
and future works as well as to exchange research ideas pertaining to
various aspects in this field of nonlinear dynamic systems and
synchronization. INDS’08 will feature contributed as well as invited
papers and will include poster and demo sessions.

Keynote Speakers:
G. Chen, City Univ. of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
L.O. Chua, University of California, USA
D. Helbing, ETH Zürich, Switzerland
J. Kacprzyk, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland
W. Mathis, University of Hannover, Germany
D. Ruan, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, Bel…