Luís Bettencourt, Christa Brelsford

Paper #: 14-11-042

Our social and technological systems are becoming increasingly global and interconnected. These changes provide opportunities for individuals and organizations to capitalize on access to more extensive markets and more people- potential customers, employers, friends and sources of ideas. But, clearly, this increasing connectivity also poses new challenges for the design of the underlying infrastructure and technology that makes it all possible. The technology must be resilient to potential hazards caused by new and changing use patterns and couplings to other systems, while still meeting the needs of society now and in the future. Stated this way, the problem of building and managing socio-technical systems appears daunting: Its uncertainties paralyze us; the lack of a clear-cut design objective saps our ability to summon the social and political will necessary to create change. For example, what’s the best way to design a power-grid for a sustainable society? What’s the budget? More generally, how much do we need to know about the present and future of life and human societies to design our present technologies and build infrastructure that will meet the needs of both current and future users? These conceptual and practical questions are central to industrial ecology. In this short piece we hope to shed some light on their underlying issues from our own perspective of research in complex adaptive systems.