Complex Adaptive Systems

AI/ML / Analytics

Complex Adaptive Systems

John H. Miller and Scott E. Page, in their book Complex Adaptive Systems, discuss a number of topics we all presume we know, but that are seldom explicitly discussed. For example, they have really nice descriptions of modeling and emergence.

They also talk about “computation as theory”. Formal mathematical methods are certainly a valuable means to understand some theories. But some social systems must have a certain minimal level of complexity before important behavioral phenomena appear. Those models are just too complex for formal methods. Computation is the only way forward. This book is all about how to approach building and understanding computational (agent-based) models for social systems.

This book recaps and integrates some material from Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science. That was also a good read. I clearly remember reading that book a decade ago on my backyard patio, bathed in the physical light of the sun and the intellectual light of intriguing ideas.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Scott Page’s (same author) Understanding Complexity lectures which address the same topic, in an abbreviated fashion, in video format.

The book is a particularly easy read because the examples are simple and clear, and because they use such interesting expressions and metaphors. (For example, when talking about pixelated pictures, they have this footnote: “For the romantic among you, assume a stained glass window”. I loved that). I also hope to learn a few things about better technical writing by examining the writing style of this book.