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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Is the Future Deterministic? Flux and Unpredictability in Cascade Evolution


24 September 2010

Institute of Advanced Study, Cosin's Hall, Palace Green

We often sense uncertainty in a complex world of cascading events from unexpected, seemingly minor, causes - from the financial crisis of 2008 to the rapid rise and fall of political figures, pop stars, and even cities. New phrases like "tipping point", "avalanche" or "gaining traction" are everywhere, as if such cascades contradict common expectations of evolution, where the "best" ideas and organisations ought to rise to prominence and stay there. Unpredictability and flux were always the essence of Darwin's evolution, however. "Which groups will ultimately prevail," Darwin wrote, "no man can predict; for we well know that many groups, formerly most extensively developed, have now become extinct.." Though Darwin was arguably a gradualist, this workshop explores first the evolutionary tools for understanding flux and uncertainty in cascading events, as well as particularly revealing case studies from the history of technology, commerce, and urban development.


08.45-8:55: Welcome

Unpredictability and cascades: case studies

09.00: Alex Bentley, Durham University and Mike O'Brien, University of Missouri
Cascades and fat tails in technological evolution - insights from the 1990s
09.30: Chris Venditti University of Reading
Phylogenies, speciation and cultural splitting
10.00:   Pierpaolo Andriani, Durham Business School
Cascades and unpredictability in business: a case study in Brazil
10.30-10.55: Coffee


Flux and fat tails

11.00:   Mike Batty, CASA, University College London
Catastrophic cascades: extending our understanding of urban change and dynamics
11.30:   Stefan Thurner, Section for Science of Complex Systems, Medical University of Vienna
Fat tails and clustered volatility
12.00:   Renaud Lambiotte, Imperial College London
Communities, knowledge creation, and information cascades
12.30-13.25: Buffet lunch


What is predictable?

13.30: Paul Ormerod, Volterra Consulting and Durham University
The onset of predictability: example from music download experiments
14.00:   David Robertson, Manchester University
Making sense of 17 million bibliographic references: an HIV case study
14:30-15:00: Discussion


This workshop is free and open to all academic staff and research postgraduate students.