A central feature of large-scale complex social, natural, and technological systems that enable our economies, our communication and sharing of information, the distribution of energy, transportation, food production, and public health, is their continual growth and increasing interconnectedness. In adapting and evolving, these systems can be seen as attempting to gain efficiency of scale, to solve problems (clean energy for all), to allow for new modes of behavior (social media), and by their very existence, to demonstrate remarkable robustness.
But this complexification can also lead to unexpected catastrophe: from massive power blackouts to global financial crashes to the collapse of ecosystems, large-scale complex systems have also repeatedly shown an unpredictable fragility. What can we learn when looking across these diverse examples? Are these system-level failures universal, few in type, or a collection of special one-of-a-kind disasters?
In our 2012 TEDxUVM event, we will bring together speakers from across the scientific landscape to report on the resilience and failure of large-scale complex systems, and our prospects for explanation, prediction, and prevention.