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RSA Animate - The Power of Networks

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Manuel Lima. The Power of Networks I'm going to talk today about the power of networks and the challenge of mapping an increasingly complex world. And I actually gonna start this talk with trees. Trees have actually been really important religious symbols over the ages. We can see trees all the way back from ancient Babylon to Judaism. Through ofcourse Christianity. But even more than religious symbols trees have really been important knowledge classification systems. Throughout the ages as well mapping a variety of aspects, mapping blood ties between people, of course, mapping the main characters and stories told in the Bible, mapping also the main areas of science, and even mapping, of course species, the various species in the planet and again using the tree metaphor on and on and on. This widespread metaphor it's so so popular because it really expresses a human desire for order. For symmetry, for hierarchy, for simplicity, for balance and unity. Trees are really an embodiment of the simple way we like to look at the world. And one of the oldest trees of knowledge known to men this was actually devised by Aristotle himself. This beautiful tree of knowledge that tries to come up with a universal structure for everything that we know across the world you know. from living bodies, animals, humans. And it was considered to be the first tree of knowledge and since than it has grown a lot more knowledge since then. in my view we are reading this turning point from trees to networks. We are really facing a paradigm shift. The paradigm shift in the sense that trees are now no longer able to really accommodate the inherent complexities of the modern world. And this happens of course for a series of reasons. One of the best articles i've read on this topic was written by warren weaver american scientist. In 1948 he wrote an article uh... on the topic of organized complexity and Weaver basically divides modern science into three different stages the first one covering the seventeen, eighteen, nineteen century to what we consider to be the problems of simplicity. During this period scientists were primarily concerned about one element influences the other uh... moving to the second stage of modern science you know, Scientists really became aware that it's not just you know one of two elements going on there's a lot more elements in our planet. But to some extent the way that they were sort of connected was fairly chaotic, fairly random. At least it was thought during that time, this covering at least the first half of the twentieth century to what we would consider to be problems of disorganized complexity Leading of course to the end of the twentieth century in the current century where we are now Scientists of course became much-much more aware it's not just a huge viriables going on that's not just a huge number of elements in our planet but they are also all interconnected and all interdependent. to what we consider to be problems of organized complexity. and you can really see these problems of organized complexity in a way that trees are unable to sort of suffice in many different areas. We can see those problems of organized complexity in the way we try to unravel our eco-systems. So no more we had this you know extremely simplified predator versus pray diagrams, right? We.. Our understanding our eco-systems in much more complex way. This is at the diagram of all the spieces that interact with cods(fish) is actually close to one hundred species Hundred species interact with cods. In the... off the coast of North Eastern Canada. and you can really see actually cod is right in the middle, you can actually hardly see because of the mass of line but it's quite incredible i think the amount of uh... interactions that exists within those spiece, again this complexity of eco-systems that we have around us. we also see these problems of organized complexity in the way we try to decode our own brain so, you know, before we used to think about the brain as a modular centralized organ where different area was responsible for given set of actions of behaviors. it's kind of appealing to think about the brain as a central element responsible for a variety of actions but of course it's not central at all. The more we realize that you know our brain is really almost like a music symphony played by hundreds and thousands of instruments. This is one of the most complex maps of the brain, it was created by the Blue Brain project which is you know very much related to the human genome project. It's at least same kind of scale uh... and it's mapping ten thousand neurons, it's mapping thirty million connections between those neurons uh... and it's just ten percent of the human neuro-cortex. That's it, ten percent. It's really remarkable to have the first sort of map of the neuron complexities of the brain. we also see these forms of organized complex in the way we categorize knowledge. This is one of the most beautiful trees-representations, this was created for the french encyclopedia uh... the biggest encycolpedia of thay time created by Diderot & d'Alambert you know that the big sort of encyclopedia of enlightment. This really represents the enlightment in many ways, but even though he was brilliant at the time 1751, he really represents knowledge as a tree where branches don't really touch each other Right? I mean they touch on the diagram, they have no connections. They have no ties between them, it's individual branches that branch off and no there's no connection whatsoever. In comparison you can actually see here, these are two maps of wikipedia and wikipedia is of course all of you know, it's really one of the largest rhizomatic structures ever created by man. you can really understand that by looking at this maps and of course using wikipedia as we have done probably several times already that knowledge is highly interconnected. You know, just like a network, really? I mean you can actually see here some topics like mathematics and others and they have immence connections with other widespread areas of knowledge, apperently widespread but sharing a lot of ties. we also see these form of organized complexities in the way we try to organize ourselves And this has been through all times especially after the industrial revolution where this notion of top-down hierarchy became so prevalent in instituion, society, companies, government et cetera But this is you know the typical organization chart where again the top down all the way from the president to the individual workmen down below. But of course we are much more idiosyncratic beings as we all know and the internet is really drastically changing this paradigm of looking at social structures from a hierarchical point of view of tree structure. This is a map of online social corporation between peel developers And perl is a very famous programming language. And here you can actually see thousands of of people collaborating in a variety of projects and you know sharing this you're very network structure which is the opposite of again any sort of hierarchy there's no leader per se, they just freely cooperate online uh... to achieve different projects we also see this kind of paradigm shift in the in the way we look at that nature, right? In the way we ordered nature itself. So the image that you have on the left side(as a big fan of Darwin myself) this is actually the only illustration that darwin had in the "Origin of species". What he denominated to be the tree of life. And of course since then you know in the past on hundred and fifty years many scientists have evolved this tree of life. uh... and off course on the right is a typical top-down hierarchical structure that we have. To categorize every single species on earth that we know. Again all the way from domain to the individual spieces, homo sapiens that you see for the human. But this was actually being changing drastically. Very recently scientists really discovered that overlaying this tree of life, the original tree of life provided by Darwin There is a dense network of bacteria and this bacteria is actually tying very disparate species and making them really close together. And if you consider that roughly ninety percent of the human body is made of bacteria in ourselves you can really understand the significance of this discovery and a lot of scientists are really calling this the web of life, it's not that the tree of life anymore it's web of life, it's the network of life. Networks are truly everywhere, it is this only present structure the brain is network of neuro-cells connected by axons, cells themselves and of course molecules societies as we all know are networks of people linked by different types of ties. Of course on a larger scale you can think about food webs and eco-systems as we saw before as networks of species. And of course networks pervade human technology from the internet, power-grids and transportation systems. And then finally i would just like to end with a little bit of teaser Is there such a thing as a Universal Structure? I love this comparison. so what you have on the left side is the neuro-network of a mouse from two thousand six, which at this scale is pretty much similar to our own. And on the right side is the "Millennium Simulation" (project). It was the largest and most realistic simulation of the growth of cosmic structure and the formation of galaxies. It was able to recreate the evolition through an approximately twenty million galaxies in approximately 25TB and here again you have to same comparison just on a different scale, a neuro-network of a mouse very similar to our own. and the Millemium simulation on a different scale. and for me coincidentally or not I just fine this comparisons striking on so many different levels. between the smaller scale of knowledge, of human knowledge and a larger scale of knowledge the universe itself. all how everything is really-really so similar. Are we in the present of this universal structure being the network? Even more than the idea of representing this complex system is the need for new way of thinking. and his new way of thinking is about thispluralistic way of thinking and that everything is interconnected and everything is interdependent. We're almost going back to the polymath, the renaissance man mentality that you know about being a specialist in one area, you need to know a little bit of everything or at least create outbound ties that you are able to learn from other distant areas. I think this is the most beautiful aspect of knowledge that we can take into consideration by looking at this network thinking. It's more important even that we actually make that mental shift. Because I think there's an immense benefit that can come from this network outlook of the world itself. Transcribed for

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 58 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Animated
Producer: RSA
Views: 514
Posted by: irarmy on Feb 23, 2013

In this new RSA Animate, Manuel Lima, senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, explores the power of network visualisation to help navigate our complex modern world. Taken from a lecture given by Manuel Lima as part of the RSA's free public events programme.

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