Archive for August, 2012

Complex System: Forecasting Riotous Behaviour.

30 August 2012
Men of Science have often been commandeered by Men of War to gain strategic advantage in matters military. Since Military would rank very high, if not at the top, with oldest professions of mankind, the involvement of men of science with warfare is ancient too. The fact that science has placed in the hands of  generals & politicians ever more deadlier weapons, which can assure mutual destruction -MAD, a term popularized during the Cold war era-, is well appreciated. Perhaps a little less appreciated fact is the role science has played in strategic and tactical decision making. When both parties are armed to the teeth or even otherwise, the men behind the war machine can, and do upset many numerical or paper superiorities as the historians of war would readily point out. Often the intelligence on what resources the opposition possesses may not be comprehensive or entirely reliable, it never is, but much more problematic area is what the opposition will do or how will it respond to moves one makes. Therefore, developing possible scenarios based on the range of possible options available to each party becomes a vital focus of enquiry. Similarly, based on the moves and counter moves adopted, and their effect; forecasting what kind of resources are at the command of the opposition and their level of sophistication become a prized input too. While use of science in such matters military, and also non military, can be traced back to ancient times; this branch of enquiry got its separate recognition only during World War -II. It became known as Operational Research or Operations Research, which soon ballooned into a regular discipline with professionals advising men controlling different branches of human affairs from military, logistics, finance, manufacturing, to forecasting, utility management, or public health and epidemics. The range of applications is ever expanding constrained only by the ability of domain expert to pose question correctly and the ingenuity of the OR- specialist.

Social tensions are rising the world over. The exploration of causes and remedial measures may be not within the scope of science; but how those social tensions, once they manifest, are likely to play out, is. Or so it seems now, when a mathematician, who did her Ph D in fluid dynamics chose to study *London Riots*. It had some interesting features. Rioters were often educated men and women from good backgrounds, and social media like Tweeter and Face Book, along side mobile networks and SMS, played part in the spread of riots. Finding features in the spread of riots, analogous to phenomena studied earlier by others like spread of epidemics, to predator-prey relationship, or to pesticides-rodent behaviour; Hannah Frey decided to focus her attention on analysing London Riots to design dynamic predictive models, which would assist in diffusing the tensions rapidly and effectively.  Watch her presentation here.