Working Together

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A serious obstacle to evolutionary theory is the interdependent relationships between living things, called symbiosis, in which completely different forms of life depend on each other to exist. Darwin’s theory of biological change was based on competition, or survival of the fittest, among the individuals making up a species. He admitted: ‘If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection’.

Symbiogenesis—the emergence of a new species through the evolutionary interdependence of two or more species—is at least as important in the history of life as survival of the fittest. Mutualism, an interaction between different species that is beneficial for all actors, is widespread throughout nature. To a large extent, mutualism has shaped, and is still shaping, life on this planet. In fact, life as we know it would not have existed without mutualistic relationships: all eukaryotic life is based on ancient endosymbiotic mutualisms between its cells and formerly independent microorganisms (e.g. mitochondria, plasmids). Other mutualisms are known to have major impact on ecosystem stability, such as specialized interactions between flowering plants and their pollinators, or seed dispersal by birds, mammals and other animals. The mutualistic relationship between humans and their agricultural crops and domesticated animals was key to the dominant role our species is now playing on our planet

So, mutualistic symbiosis is a widespread phenomenon in nature.

Humans have evolved to adapt our behavior to the context in which we live. However, by becoming able to change the environment to better suit our needs, humankind went a step further than simple adaptation. As a result, in the coming decades we will see that for the first time, artefacts that we have created will start to adapt themselves and their behavior based on their ecological context. In short, we will be part of their context.

Hence, starting in the next decade and even more so in the further future, we will live in a dynamically changing world where we will be responding to the behavior of machines, machines will be responding to our behavior in a continuously changing fabric, and it will become progressively more difficult to distinguish cause and effect between man and machine. From symbiotic relationship to emergence of new entities: the establishment of a symbiotic relationship among (autonomous) systems as well as between them and humans.

There is yet another aspect of these trends that will become apparent over the next decade. The interaction of several systems, each one independent from the others but operating in a symbiotic relationship with the others—humans included—will give rise to emergent entities that do not exist today.

As an example, cities are the result of the interplay of several systems, including its citizens as a whole, as well as individuals. We can design individual systems and even attempt to design a centralized control system for a complex set of systems, such as a city. However, a city cannot be designed in a top down way, as we would do with even a very complicated system such as a manufacturing plant where everything is controlled. Just the simple fact that a city does not exist without its citizens and the impossibility of dealing or controlling each single citizen, as we would control a cog in a manufacturing plant, shows that conventional design approaches will not succeed.

This emergence of novel abstract (although very concrete) entities created by these complex interactions is probably the most momentous change we are going to face in the coming decades. To steer these trends in a direction that can maximize their usefulness and minimize their drawbacks requires novel approaches in design, control, and communications that for the first time will place our tools on the same level as ourselves.

The symbioses of artefacts with humans will move by little steps and has already begun. Once artefacts and systems have an autonomous intelligence they will also probably have seamless interaction capabilities that will enhance their local intelligence by making use of other entities’ intelligence. Where the sharing of intelligence will be designed, in opportunistic dynamic symbioses with other entities’ intelligence. We are already cooperating with machines. Over the coming years this cooperation will become more and more seamless to the point that we might not even perceive it; we will take it for granted. The next step is machines becoming aware (including aware of our presence and capabilities) and adapting their operation to the overall ambient. Some implants will become much smarter than today, adapting in a seamless way to the body, and conversely the body will adapt seamlessly to the implant. In the fourth decade we can expect this mutual adaptation, relying on seamless interfaces and low latency communications, to broaden beyond implants to components in an ambient that will operate in a symbiotic relationship. Intelligence will become a distributed capability giving rise to an emergent symbiotic intelligence.

We are now entering into in a new era of intelligent and super-intelligent machines. No doubt, the new ear will be driven by artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, Quantum computing, Drone, Blockchain and nanotechnologies. Artificial Mutualistic symbiosis, our next evolutionary step?

 

Onrustig

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ONZE ONRUST OVER ‘DE STAD’ . ‘Wij’ zijn een netwerk van wetenschappers, bedrijven, dwarsdenker ….. etc.

Steden en metropolitane gebieden worden steeds belangrijker voor het functioneren van de samenleving in een steeds complexere wereld. Deze stedelijke omgevingen zijn nu veelzijdiger, dynamischer, meer verbonden en minder voorspelbaar dan in het verleden. En de complexiteit neemt alleen maar toe.

Stedelijke gebieden zijn in beginsel buitengewoon effectieve en efficiënte ‘systemen’ als vertegenwoordiging van het BNP. Gelijktijdig zijn zij echter ook de grootste oorzaak van belasting op de biofysische grenzen (een aantal ‘tipping points’ zijn al overschreden) van het -global- ecosysteem, en staan mondiale, nationale en regionale eco- en circulatiesystemen onder druk.  Migratiepatronen veranderen, energie, voedsel en water zijn kostbare -schaarse- goederen, de technologische ontwikkelingen gaan in versnelling. Daarbij spelen een aantal onzekere factoren zoals een onstabiele economie,  maatschappelijke processen van uitsluiting en achterstand, geopolitieke structuren in beweging , veranderende demografie en grondstoffen schaarste.

Maar deze aspecten zijn ook potentiele kansen en ontwikkelingsperspectieven; zeker als we daar nabije ontwikkelingen bij betrekken.

Transities, beter gezegd transformaties (mede-) veroorzaakt door digitalisering, exponentiële groei in technologische ontwikkelingen, klimaatverandering, energie en (kritische) grondstoffenbehoefte, maar ook veranderende economie, sociale en democratische verhoudingen tussen burgers, bedrijven en overheden, vragen serieuze aandacht.

Een groot deel van Nederland de komende jaren geconfronteerd met bevolkingskrimp enerzijds, bevolkingsdruk op steden, druk op de woningmarkt, vergrijzing (betaalbare zorg), een sociaal economische stratificatie (welzijn), ‘economisch verdienvermogen’ dat onder druk staat, etcetera.  Tegelijkertijd zijn investeringen in primair onderwijs, gezondheid(sachterstanden) en de transitie naar een biobased circulaire en inclusieve economie juist nu nodig.

Aan de technologische ontwikkeling zal het niet liggen, maar wel aan autoriteit, leiderschap, een  overheid als launching customer en het bedrijfsleven en kennisinstellingen als ‘autoriteit’.

Het lijkt het er op dat er zich geen tweede kans meer zal voordoen om regio’s en steden op een slimme, duurzame, flexibele en adaptieve manier in te richten.

‘De stad’ heeft nu het momentum op haar -historische- rol te pakken als omgeving en knooppunt van innovatie, sociaal-maatschappelijke vernieuwing, versterken van het sociaal kapitaal en (letterlijk) de ruimte om te kunnen ontplooien, om juist door de frictie tussen oude regels nieuwe mogelijkheden te laten ontstaan. De klimaatopgave, energietransitie en de circulaire economie vormen de opmaat naar een grootschalige transitie. Het is daarnaast essentieel dat bij deze belangrijke (transitie)opgaven de leef-en omgevingskwaliteit alsmede het gezondheidsperspectief worden betrokken.

De omvang en urgentie van deze transities vragen om een maatschappijbrede aanpak. Deze opgaven alleen al leiden tot ingrijpende en omvangrijke veranderingen en zijn feitelijk een roep om een samenhangende systemische aanpak.

Het noodzaakt de vraagstukken nu ECHT aan te pakken.

Ondertussen neemt de noodzaak alleen maar toe. Het komend decennium is cruciaal om de transitie vorm te geven. De vraag is hoe we dat gaan doen.

De klok tikt.

Er is meer nodig dan het polijsten van wat is: creëren van nieuwe stedelijke kennis is noodzakelijk om inzicht in en beter begrip van complexe verstedelijkingsprocessen en hun interactie te verkrijgen. Verschillende niveaus van abstractie zijn nodig om zowel op het niveau van de stad, als bijvoorbeeld het niveau van de wijk, inzichten te ontwikkelen die besluitvormers kunnen informeren.

Bestaande modelleer- en ontwerphulpmiddelen geven de stedelijke complexiteit, met hun voortdurend veranderende variabelen, vaak niet goed weer. Zo worden de vele multi-level interacties tussen processen vaak niet in kaart gebracht, omdat de kennis hiertoe niet bekend is. Het ontwerp van complexe stedelijke systemen vereist namelijk een ander manier van denken, waarin van tevoren rekening wordt gehouden met ontwikkelingen die niet voorspelbaar zijn.Dit vereist een ander aanpak: een vernieuwde methodiek om de complexiteit van steden (gebieden) te doorgronden, te begrijpen en juist daardoor de juiste transformaties te doorlopen.

Het door ons gebruikte model biedt de mogelijkheid tot het generen van kennis en informatie omtrent stedelijke complexiteit. Het model geeft diep inzicht in en doorgrond de dynamiek, samenhangen tussen sociaal-maatschappelijke, economische en ecologische aspecten in een regio, stad, wijk of buurt.  Het model maakt de stad inzichtelijk, interactief en dynamisch. Bij het ‘bouwen’ van het model is de interactie met betrokken stakeholders is essentieel. Toekomstperspectieven, de effectiviteit en efficiëntie van transities en ingrepen kunnen hierin worden doorzien en worden verantwoord.  Van groot belang is dat de scheefgetrokken verhouding tussen ‘long turn benefits’ en ‘short-run costs’ worden hersteld en de effectiviteit, efficiëntie en legitimiteit van ingrepen en de inzet van middelen worden vergroot. Dit is noodzakelijk voor het structureren van andere en vernieuwende business cases en samenwerkende coalities.

We staan nu aan de vooravond van de verdere doorontwikkelen van digitale ondersteuning om relevante (kritische) gegevens uit verschillende bronnen “data” te verwerken en te analyseren (van data naar informatie) en -daarmee- door te kunnen ontwikkelen naar real-time monitoring, predictive analytics en automated decision support.

De methodiek is al zeer succesvol toegepast om de transformaties van steden, wijken te ontwikkelen, effectieve en efficiënte transitiepaden uit te werken en projecten en initiatieven van de rond te trekken. Daarbij worden kosten gereduceerd en opbrengsten vergroot. Het is echter nog een model ‘uitgewerkt in papier’. Zoals gezegd gaan we naar een digitale versie (voor zowel gebruik als een ‘realtime dashboard’): de Urban Digital Twin. Hiervoor moet een softwareprogramma en algoritmes worden ontwikkeld. Verder worden vernieuwende financieringsmodellen ontwikkeld op basis van BlockChain methodiek/technologie.

Naast de verdere digitale modelontwikkeling (urban digital twin) wordt gewerkt aan het opzetten, uitwerken en faciliteren van een platform voor verdere kennis- en praktijk ontwikkeling en kennisvalidatie (in samenwerking -met studenten van-kennisinstellingen).

De basis van de modellering is drievoudig:

  • de eerste pijler is het vermogen om het stedelijke systeem te begrijpen, te abstraheren en te modelleren.
  • de tweede pijler is inzicht en simulatie van perspectieven, transities en effectieve en efficiënte ingrepen gebaseerd op -getoetste- kwalitatieve en kwantitatieve gegevens en informatie.
  • de derde stap is de projectie van verschillende mogelijkheden en het creëren van ontwerpscenario’s die moeten worden besproken met de belanghebbenden en besluitvormers.

Inhoudelijk is het model gebaseerd op wetenschappelijk onderzoek op het gebied van complexiteit en stedelijke ontwikkeling en geïnspireerd op:

  • visie, concepten van het World Economic Forum, The Fourth Economic Revolution (Klaus Schwab)
  • uitgangspunten van Circulaire Economie en de Doughnut Economy (Kate Raworth)
  • Planetary Boundaries (Stockholm Resilience Centre)
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • convergenties tussen technologische disrupties
  • Bioinspired design (biomimicri, biophylia, biofysica)
  • Anthropocene (Erle C Ellis) en (research in ) Earth System Science

 

The near future…. are we in control?

By | Algemeen | No Comments

The increasing robotization and intelligence of objects is leading to a seamless presence in our everyday life. The Internet of (every)thing is on us and it is growing in our homes, in our cities, at the office….. The sheer number and variety of intelligent/robotized objects will seamlessly morph into a fabric of connected objects out of which an overall behavior will arise. We are part of this evolving ambient and we are interacting with both intelligent/ robotized objects and with the cyberspace. We are a component of this ambient, we live in symbiosis with it and soon enough intelligent systems will live in symbioses with us. By 2050, it might be more and more difficult to put a dividing line between life and non-life. Artefacts will be able to become aware, to self-repair, to look for ‘food’ and to multiply. May be the are even sentient.

Symbioses is a natural phenomenon, it is not planned nor it is the result of an agreement between the symbiotic partners. That will be similar, in many cases, in the symbioses among artefacts (and artefacts and humans) once the artefacts will grow to become self-adapting.

It does not necessarily mean that each partner can live independently of the other (we cannot live without our symbiotic bacteria), it means that each partner is behaving according to its own rules (autonomous), and the symbiotic relation binds the two autonomies. The future will see behavior and meaning stemming from complexity and this, in turns, is a side effect of systems. A single IoT will not qualify to become a partner in a symbiotic relation, but a system comprising several IoTs, interconnections, data, and intelligence will. In a more distant future, and 2050 may be a reasonable thresholds, autonomous systems might have the capability to create and establish a direct communication with other autonomous system and negotiate a joint activity to pursue a goal.

An autonomous system has to be intelligent to the extent that is has to work out, by itself a survival strategy in its interaction with the environment. The more interaction is present, and the more articulated (varied) the more intelligence is required. In the quest for embedding intelligence in autonomous systems as they become more and more flexible, adaptable and increase the level of interactions with the environment, cooperate with one another, the need for higher levels of intelligence grows. In the context of symbiotic autonomous systems the overall intelligence is shared among its components and it is interesting to study how the human intelligence can cooperate with the artefacts intelligence: a symbioses with a machine, with an autonomous system, can lead to an increase in our human capabilities. The development of this collective Intelligence looks for inspiration at biological systems.

Living beings have shown an incredible capacity to adapt to their environment. That went through millions of years, thousands and thousands of generations and immense extinctions. The ones surviving are the ones that manage to adapt to a changing environment. Autonomous systems have been designed to operate within specific boundaries. As they become more and more powerful they will face broader and broader contexts and will need to adapt to ever more complex changes.

In turns, this requires a growing understanding of their environment (bordering on awareness) and the capability to alter the rules of the game through which they conform their behavior. In symbiotic systems this issue is compounded by the presence of two, or more, interactive autonomous systems, one of which can be a biological one.

We will be living in a world where the boundaries between life and objects will be more difficult to perceive. Of course this may take several decades but we will find ourselves speaking with objects and with the environment more and more, we will take for granted that we can talk to them, they will talk back to us and engage in a meaningful interaction. We will expect robotized intelligent objects to be the norm and to take the initiative. A further step in symbiotic autonomous system foresees an awareness of an artificial autonomous system, to become aware of its limitation and to seek assistance from another system, including interacting with a human.

IN OUR CONTROL?

There are balanced ecosystems where autonomous systems (living beings including plants, animals and microbes) achieved a dynamic equilibrium with resources. In the last centuries (and accelerating) human civilization has been a major factor in the evolution of biomes by changing their equilibrium leading to anthropogenic biomes and (re-)shaping the mix of life and its interplay.

This has been done without any conscious design on our part. Actually, we have just recently realized the impact we are having on the Planet and the undesired consequences. Hence we are starting (or at least there is a strong demand for) to take actions leading to a rebalancing. So, like all life on Earth, we have evolved to adapt our behavior to the context in which we live. However, by becoming able to change the environment to better suit our needs, humankind went a step further than simple adaptation. As a result, in the coming decades we will see that for the first time, artifacts that we have created will start to adapt themselves and their behavior based on their ecological context. The interaction of several systems, each one independent from the others but operating in a symbiotic relationship with the others—humans included—will give rise to emergent entities that do not exist

As example, the future city becomes a living, ever changing, organism (of which citizens are not just inhabitants and users of its services but an autonomous system on their own) is a perfect example of symbiotic autonomous systems, with various hierarchies and interactions, diversity of goals and cooperation needs plus competition forces.

Robotics, intelligent systems will be a science of artificial life forms and their interactions will be au pair with today’s communities of living beings, first, probably more comparable to ants or bees societies but them upgrading to more sentient societies, like human societies. The former will probably become realities in the 2030-2040 (with some proto societies developing sooner) the latter will likely become real and diffuse in the second half of this century.

We live in a dynamically changing world where we will be responding to the behavior of machines, machines will be responding to our behavior in a continuously changing fabric, and it will become progressively more difficult to distinguish between cause and effect between man and machine. The establishment of a symbiotic relation among (autonomous) systems as well as between them and humans.

In the coming decades we will start designing biomes as part of the symbiotic autonomous systems science. It will see a cooperation among different technologies, from the ones supporting monitoring to the ones supporting intelligence from smart materials to complex systems theory and application. This emergence of novel abstract (although very concrete) entities created by these complex interactions is probably the most momentous change we are going to face in the coming decades. To steer these trends in a direction that can maximize their usefulness and minimize their drawbacks requires novel approaches in design control and communications that for the first time will place our tools on the same level as ourselves.

The change will be gradual, the scaring part is that only few will realize the change.

 

 

The future …. coming soon

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The future is approaching much faster than we realize.

The most spectacular manifestation of an accelerating trend is when its progression becomes exponential or more. An exponential progression is clearly unsustainable in the real world reaching very quickly a collapse point of the underlying process. In case of accelerating technological development, the collapse point is generally identified with the so called Singularity, caused by the rise of self-improving Artificial Intelligence.

The technological singularity corresponds to the time when ordinary humans will be overtaken by artificially intelligent machines and/or cognitively enhanced biological intelligence. It will be the advent of artificial general intelligence (also known as strong AI). Such a singularity in human history will have far-reaching consequences so much so that -our understanding of what it means to be human- to be an individual, to be alive, to be conscious, to be part of the social order – all this would be thrown into question, not by detached philosophical reflection, but through force of circumstances, real and present. Artificial intelligence (AI) is overtaking our human ability to absorb and process information. Robots are becoming increasingly dextrous, flexible, and safe to be around (except the military ones). The advent of super artificial intelligence (or artificial general intelligence), a real intelligence not just equal to but greater than our own. An intelligence that can act on massive volumes of data at a speed that no human can match. Nobody knows the consequences of this turning point – or when it will happen, if ever – but this is probably an issue for the next generation and outside the scope of today’s pressing issues. But you just never know.

This technological singularity is a game-changer, but what happens when there are more singularities?

Taking a wider look of what is going on with us and our planet we could say that there are various singularities that are lining up and coming our way. This is not good news and, besides the intrinsic risk represented by accelerating trends, the significance of what is about to happen is very profound.

Echoing the changes that the technological singularity will impose upon humans, an ecological singularity could be defined as period in time or the event, when our (growing) capacity to solve the totality of the anthropogenic problems is superseded by the volume of the (growing) totality of the anthropogenic problems. The precise date is of course difficult to forecast but it looks inevitable. Beside climate change, loss of primary tropical forests, resources consumption, etc. the loss of biodiversity is reaching an unstoppable and unbelievable rate showing that we are in the middle of a mass extinction. This mass extinction has been already named as the Permian extinction which will be the sixth global mass extinction in the history of our planet and one of the most severe. We are approaching a collapse point of the ecosystem beyond which we cannot predict what will happen. Many negative feedbacks will trigger self-feeding loops impossible to control. At that point we will hit the Ecological Singularity.

The old lengthy natural process of waiting for random changes to be tested by natural selection in order to become permanent features of living beings will be shortly replaced in human beings by technology through genetic modifications and technological augmentations of our bodies and minds. Changes will no longer be random, they will be planned to serve a purpose and the process will become proactive and not reactive, making it billion of times more efficient and faster. As technology accelerates dragging everything with it, we will have to also change in order to keep up. This process constitutes an accelerating feedback loop; the more technology improves, the more we improve our capabilities creating better technology which, in return, will be used to improve us even more. Technology is incompatible with the way we have been living until now and as it accelerates we will have to adapt faster and faster to the new environment. Failure will result in extinction. We are on the verge of an epochal transition; we are passing from an era driven by Natural Evolution to an era driven by Artificial Evolution and, at the transition point, we will encounter a Evolutionary Singularity.

The orthodox economic model at the foundation of the modern society is based on continuous indefinite growth and on an ever increasing supply of energy and resources. As a matter of fact the world economy has been growing at steady level of 3% per year on average. This constant 3% steady growth could appear not much but this impression is wrong; growing at this rate we will need about 5 planets to support our civilization by 2050. The classical economic model is clearly unsustainable and it will hit various hard constraints in the near future due to limited resources, increasingly impacting the planet and the collapsing ecosystems. As it is, the world is consuming resources at an unsustainable rate.

AI will drive unprecedented changes to the structure of employment — changes that will have lasting effects on every society. How smooth or disruptive this will be is up to us: industry, politics, research and education. Beside the hard limitations there are many other disruptive forces at work that risk to destabilize the entire economic model. One of the most relevant is the rising of a new economy based on zero marginal cost enabled by the new technologies and internet. Various industries have been revolutionized already with massive corporations being crippled because they couldn’t adapt to changes occurring too fast. From the music industry, to photography and telecommunications we have already seen a disruptive revolution with costs approaching near zero for the end consumer. The next step will be the sharing of goods, properties and assets, such as self-driving cars and the distributed generation of electricity. In parallel, virtual currencies are making their way to the global scene having the potential to replace conventional currencies revolutionizing the economy from within. Technological unemployment will be another powerful disruptor of our economic model considering the enormous possibilities of narrow AI and robotics. The continuous increase of life duration and the consequent number of aging people, combined with the technological unemployment, will bring the collapse of social welfare systems across the world. All of these elements influence each other and will occur simultaneously causing an accelerating rate of change of great complexity leading to a singularity, the Economic Singularity.

We are approaching a fundamental step in the evolution of our civilization, an evolutionary jump that probably only few civilizations in the universe managed to overcome. Should we be afraid? No, but we should be aware. We don’t know where this adventure will take us but, one thing is sure, with a business as usual approach we will go nowhere. We must instead acknowledge that we now exist in an ecosystem of disruptive singularities and we must evolve and update if we are going to be capable of navigating these transformative impacts. It should encourage us to imagine—even demand that we imagine—a different but possible future. It is incumbent that we do not sleepwalk into a crisis. But imagine if we manage to go through it ….

It is bad enough as it is, but are we not just treating the symptoms …

By | Algemeen | No Comments

The massive transformation enacted by humanity is also why our geological era, which is akin to the operating system on which the living world depends, recently had its name updated to the anthropocene – the age of humanity. So what is the path forward? The necessary solutions for ensuring that our children enjoy healthy and abundant natural habitats are not simple. But one thing is certain. For humanity to head in the right direction, we must take a closer look at what is around us. We cannot count on the blind leading the blind.

The Anthropocene represents the beginning of a very rapid human-driven trajectory of the Earth System away from the glacial– interglacial limit cycle toward new, hotter climatic conditions and a profoundly different biosphere. The current position, at over 1 °C above a preindustrial baseline, is nearing the upper envelope of interglacial conditions over the past 1.2 million years. More importantly, the rapid trajectory of the climate system over the past half century along with technological lock in and socioeconomic inertia in human systems commit the climate system to conditions beyond the envelope of past interglacial conditions. Therefore, it is possible the Earth System may already have passed one ‘fork in the road’, a bifurcation with potentially many trajectories , often represented by the large range of global temperature rises simulated by climate models.

In most analyses, these trajectories are largely driven by the amount of greenhouse gases that human activities have already emitted and will continue to emit into the atmosphere over the rest of this century and beyond—with a presumed quasilinear relationship between cumulative carbon dioxide emissions and global temperature rise. However, biogeophysical feedback processes within the Earth System coupled with direct human degradation of the biosphere, may play a more important role than normally assumed, limiting the range of potential future trajectories and potentially eliminating the possibility of the intermediate trajectories. There is a significant risk that these internal dynamics, especially strong nonlinearities in feedback processes, could become an important or perhaps, even dominant factor in steering the trajectory that the Earth System actually follows over coming centuries.

The trajectory of the Earth System is influenced by biogeophysical feedbacks within the system that can maintain it in a given state (negative feedbacks) and those that can amplify a perturbation and drive a transition to a different state (positive feedbacks). Some of the key negative feedbacks that could maintain the Earth System in Holocene-like conditions— notably, carbon uptake by land and ocean systems—are weakening relative to human forcing, increasing the risk that positive feedbacks could play an important role in determining the Earth System’s trajectory.

Beyond the threshold of 2 °C above preindustrial temperature this intrinsic biogeophysical feedbacks in the Earth System could become the dominant processes controlling the system’s trajectory. Precisely where a potential planetary threshold might be is uncertain. The 2 °C warming could activate important tipping elements, raising the temperature further to activate other tipping elements in a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth System to even higher temperatures (Tipping Cascades). Such cascades comprise, in essence, the dynamical process that leads to thresholds in complex systems. This analysis implies that, even if the Paris Accord target of a 1.5 °C to 2.0 °C rise in temperature is met, we cannot exclude the risk that a cascade of feedbacks could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a ‘Hothouse Earth’ pathway.

A critical issue is that, if a planetary threshold is crossed toward the Hothouse Earth pathway, accessing the Stabilized Earth pathway would become very difficult no matter what actions human societies might take. Beyond the threshold, positive (reinforcing) feedbacks within the Earth System —outside of human influence or control— could become the dominant driver of the system’s pathway, as individual tipping elements create linked cascades through time and with rising temperature.

It is bad enough as it is, but are we not just treating the symptoms …

The discourse around climate change, is about the metric buzzwords – carbon, greenhouse, emissions, temperature, alternative energy etc. Is it possible that in the debate around measuring what’s happening and how badly it’s happening, we have been distracted from a true root cause of ecological crisis?

What is typically measured is that which serves the economic and political interests, and unconscious biases, of those who commission the measurements. The conventional climate discourse is heavily influenced by a geo-mechanical view of the world. From that view, fixing the planet becomes a matter of tweaking the atmospheric gas composition. When we focus on quantifiable metrics of the climate problem, we may be led to believe that the control of these metrics brings us closer to planetary safety or even healing, when in fact, the root cause drivers of ecological destruction remain active.

In the dominant climate change narrative, humans are an external force driving change to the Earth System in a largely linear, deterministic way; the higher the forcing in terms of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the higher the global average temperature. Human societies and our activities need to be recast as an integral, interacting component of a complex, adaptive Earth System. This framing puts the focus not only on human system dynamics that reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also on those that create or enhance negative feedbacks that reduce the risk that the Earth System will cross a planetary threshold and lock into a Hothouse Earth pathway.

Humanity’s challenge then is to influence the dynamical properties of the Earth System in such a way that the emerging unstable conditions in the zone between the Holocene and a very hot state become a de facto stable intermediate state.

This requires that humans take deliberate, integral, and adaptive steps to reduce dangerous impacts on the Earth System, effectively monitoring and changing behavior to form feedback loops that stabilize this intermediate state. There is much uncertainty and debate about how this can be done—technically, ethically, equitably, and economically—and there is no doubt that the normative, policy, and institutional aspects are highly challenging. Societies could take a wide range of actions that constitute negative feedbacks, to steer the Earth System toward Stabilized Earth.

While reducing emissions is a priority, much more must be done to reduce direct human pressures on critical biomes that contribute to the regulation of the state of the Earth System through carbon sinks and moisture feedbacks, such as the Amazon and boreal forests, and to build much more effective stewardship of the marine and terrestrial biospheres in general. The present dominant socioeconomic system, however, is based on high-carbon economic growth and exploitative resource use. Attempts to modify this system have met with some success locally but little success globally in reducing greenhouse gas emissions or building more effective stewardship of the biosphere.

Incremental linear changes to the present socioeconomic system are not enough to stabilize the Earth System. Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values.

In addition to institutional and social innovation at the global governance level, changes in demographics, consumption, behavior, attitudes, education, institutions, and socially embedded technologies are all important to maximize the chances of achieving a Stabilized Earth pathway.

Ultimately, the transformations necessary to achieve the Stabilized Earth pathway require a fundamental reorientation and restructuring of national and international institutions toward more effective governance at the Earth System level, with a much stronger emphasis on planetary concerns in economic governance, global trade, investments and finance, and technological development. And even if world leaders somehow got their act together, significant and dangerous levels of warming are still inevitable, baked into the system from all the carbon dioxide that has already been dumped. There’s a time lag between carbon dioxide increase and subsequent effects, between the wind we sow and the whirlwind we reap. Barring a miracle, the next 20 years are going to see increasingly chaotic systemic transformation in global climate patterns, unpredictable biological adaptation and a wild spectrum of human political and economic responses, including scapegoating and war. The middle and later decades of the 21st century — my grandchildren’s adult life’s — promise as it looks like at the moment a global catastrophe whose full implications any reasonable person must turn away from in horror. Society is not simply an aggregate of millions or billions of individual choices but a complex, recursive dynamic in which choices are made within institutions and ideologies that change over time as these choices feed back into the structures that frame what we consider possible. All the while, those structures are being disrupted and nudged and warped and shaken by countless internal and external drivers, including environmental factors such as global warming, material and social innovation, and the occasional widespread panic. We choose from possible options, not ex nihilo.

Our (grand)children will not face the choices we face. They won’t have the opportunities we now have for action. They’ll confront a range of outcomes whose limits were determined by the choices we made. Yet while some degree of warming now appears inevitable, the range of possible outcomes over the next century is wide enough and the worst outcomes extreme enough that there is some narrow hope that revolutionary socio-economic transformation today might save billions of human lives and preserve global civilization as we know it in more or less recognizable form

This requires a fundamental change in the role of humans on the planet: a deliberate and sustained action to become an integral, adaptive part of Earth System dynamics, creating feedbacks that keep the system on a Stabilized Earth.

Intelligent Life

By | Algemeen | No Comments

With networks, we can organize and integrate information at different levels. On a biological level, our bodies are made up of many networks that are integrated at and communicating on multiple scales. From our genome to the molecules and cells that makeup the organs in our bodies all the way out to ourselves in our world: we are fundamentally a network of networks. Living organisms are, in essence, complex systems which process information using a combination of hardware and software. Over time, people figured this out and started to use natural systems as inspiration for efficient solutions. If we listen to what nature is telling to us, we can take better decisions, build more sustainable buildings, create systems that function where and when we need them to, all in one, assign nature solution to human problems. Nature is an ecosystem made from living organisms like us humans.

In thriving living systems, the entire process of divergence, relationship and convergence is self-organizing, set into motion by life itself. In the dynamic, moment-by-moment interplay of divergent parts coming together to create a sufficiently convergent whole, supported and connected by  a consistent yet adaptive relational and governing infrastructure, all animated and guided by the self-organizing spark of life. By this the living system is able to self-organize in order not only to persist but to adapt and ultimately to generate higher, more complex forms of life. Without the spark of life, these outcomes are impossible. With it, the paradox of diversity within unity is reconciled naturally and effortlessly in living systems, generating resilience, innovation and even beauty.

The generation of design (configuration, patterns, geometry, shape, structure, rhythm) in nature is a physical phenomenon that unites all animate and inanimate systems. Design in Nature always shows itself as systems that flow and improve themselves. Systems improve themselves because the movement from chaos to order takes many discrete steps. Nature creates and operates it’s systems efficiently. Natural processes and nature’s problem-solving methods emanate originality, precision, and incredible utilization of resources. It is no wonder why we always return to them when everything else fails or when we are in need of an excellent solution. The natural world is the most adaptable complex system ever known to humans. Evolution provides us with countless examples of systems performing various types of computations. We harnessed some of these ideas and created artificial systems comparable with natural ones, like optimization algorithms inspired by ant colonies This type of probabilistic models is useful for finding optimal solutions for situations encountered in operations management, like the shortest path problem, combinatorics problems in resource allocation, multi-objective optimization problems.

The natural world has always designed intelligent systems. Chemical networks, cells, our brain, or our societies are examples of adaptive and autonomous systems. Everywhere you look, the natural world bursts with examples of complex adaptive systems. However, nature has a significant advantage on its side: time. The majority of these systems are the result of years and years of evolution. Years during which they went from one configuration to the next until they found the best way to solve the task. Fair enough, sometimes constraints prevented a natural system from finding the best solution. Those situations had catastrophic consequences such as the extinction of a species or the loss of a large number of members of a population. Technology does not have the luxury of perfecting a solution over millions of years nor can we afford catastrophes. With all their differences, nature and technology should not be excluding each other. We should pay close attention to the natural world. Start by finding out if a biological system has not already solved the problem. If it has, then there is no point in reinventing the wheel, extract the fundamental principles and methods and transfer them to the problem we are trying to solve. Nature is a source of inspiration, while technology is the engine for creation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is closely related to biology, neuroscience, or cognitive science. Scientists and practitioners borrowed many ideas from the natural world about computation. AI algorithms and in some instance entire fields derive from biological systems. For example, neural networks use elements from the architecture of the brain. Moreover, we have optimization algorithms inspired by natural evolution, ant colonies, or immune systems. Thus, AI and the natural world share many similarities.

So AI is closer to us then we might think as AI seeks to design and build computational systems that can reason, sense, and make decisions in complex environments and under much uncertainty. The connection between artificial intelligence and nature helps to create advanced technologies. Understanding the processes behind any form of intelligence occurring in the animated world will reshape business  and industrial processes.

Developments in artificial intelligence relate to biological and the natural world. Many algorithms and systems inspired by systems found in nature have been developed: evolutionary algorithms, artificial neural networks computational immunity systems, bio-robotics, swarm intelligence or optimization algorithms based on colonies, hives, or flocks. These ideas transformed how we develop new technologies and solve problems. Bio-inspired solutions benefit from the fact that nature has already refined a lot of the steps to make them as efficient as possible. Thus, by this we are able to develop disruptive technologies by combining engineering and natures fine-tuned solutions.

But, we should seek to act as wise, compassionate stewards of life — our own lives and all life. Only with these intentions can we be trusted to self-govern. And only with this guidance we can proceed in our technological drive.

Understanding our cities: a fusion of complex system science and AI.

By | Algemeen | 7 Comments

The fascinating thing about cities is that different aspects of them allow us to think about them in many different ways. At the level of urban infrastructure, cities certainly have features of machines, with vast constructed networks involved in transporting people, water, electricity, and waste.

At the level of the economy, cities resemble complex ecosystems, with companies and individuals filling specific niches and all living and working in a symbiotic dance. And at the level of growth and change, cities also feel like living, breathing, constantly growing and changing organisms.

But ultimately, the fact that a city has features of both a machine, a societal ecosystem, as well as a living thing means that a city is truly its own category: a novel type of socio-ecological-technological system that humans have made, and is perhaps one of our more incredible inventions.

When something is complicated, it is intricate but often lacks the dynamics that makes a system hard to understand. On the other hand, a complex system implies feedback, a sensitive dependence on the initial conditions, and emergent phenomena that are hard to predict.

As our cities’ systems grow and increasingly become interconnected, we are finding ourselves in a realm of the entanglement at the level of our cities. All cities face challenges, decision-making and accountability in a complex ‘system of systems’, of both traditional systems, such as critical infrastructure, as well as new ones resulting from emerging technologies, such as virtualization, sensor networks, etc. All aspects of a city’s life are complex combinations of events in both the real world (and physical space) and digital world (of cyberspace) and many transactions and interactions take place in or between both. Wherever they take place, the outcomes are certainly felt in the real world of a city’s stakeholders. For dynamical models to be realistic, they need to have accurate initial conditions, exact causality between systems variables and defined kinetics. The other issue with dynamical models of complex systems is the nonlinearity characteristic of complex systems. Because of the complex relationships between the variables in complex systems, the dynamics of the system quickly become nonlinear and complex.

A productive response involves looking at methodologies to understand living organisms or ecosystems. Since cities do resemble living things, at least in certain ways, perhaps we can use these approaches for living things and apply them to our own constructions, specifically our cities.

Obviously, ‘biological thinking’ can help us to better understand our urban environment, but we might also use ideas from physics to understand how innovation and productivity scale with the population of a city, network science to understand the many different diffuse networks that serve our cities, and even the quantitative social sciences to see how information spreads within an urban population.

We should be careful when we observe regularities in the global behavior of such systems: those regularities should not be taken as a clue that a formal, analytic explanation is lurking beneath the surface. The term complex system is used to describe precisely those cases where the global behavior of the system shows interesting regularities, and is not completely random, but where the nature of the interactions between the components is such that we would normally expect the consequences of those interactions to be beyond the reach of analytic solutions. Methods based on self-organization featuring emerging behaviors are very suitable for facing the complexity of the system.

These kind of systems are typically tackled by drawing inspiration from natural systems, where an intrinsic self-organization exist by which the globally intended behavior emerges out of local interaction of individuals. Given the intrinsic complexity of these applications then, new innovative techniques and tools for their analysis, design and deployment, are to be conceived. They  have to support the designer in controlling the emergence of adaptive behavior and in making qualitative and quantitate predictions about how the system works and about possible design errors.

There is a relationship between the study of complex systems, and the techniques of multi-agent system modeling. Multi-agent system modeling is about generative modeling of social processes that is computable in the mathematical sense. Urban components, actors are relatively simple components in the complex system of the city. Or more specifically, each component’s behavior is relatively simple compared to what the overall urban system is doing. A city as a whole is capable of engaging in complex behaviors. In contrast, no one single component, actor will have the impulse or knowledge to undertake such collective tasks on its own. It’s these collective behaviors that arise unexpectedly that are called ’emergent’ behaviors.

Complexity describes the behavior — it captures the available information, sensory capabilities, interaction dynamics and the range of possible actions a system can take. Complexity captures these degrees of freedom and the information available, while emergent phenomena are the actual behaviors, the occurrence or the appearance of those behaviors.

Emergence happens when the system has evolved to some critical point. In self-organized systems, critical states act as a kind of attractor. Once it reaches that critical state, the system seems to flip a switch and become resilient to future disruptions — the same disruptions that drove them to criticality in the first place. A collective then emerges, whose behavior as a whole is no longer correlated to the behavior of individual components. In this way, the system maintains its decentralized character, yet can act as a single entity. Thus, in tying the concepts to computational systems, the expression of any algorithms of these individual components must necessarily be simple, distributed and scalable. So while any system may begin with a simple set of components, under the right conditions, it will nevertheless be enough to generate a diverse range of differently-scaled systems, whether in nature or computing.

Ultimately, any sort of model that describes a complex system can be useful in providing insight into how cities operate, they must always be used with a certain amount of humility, in recognition of the complex reality that is a city.

The challenge of city intelligence is, to employ a biological analogy, more like genetic engineering than mechanical engineering, and part of the solution will require rewriting a city’s DNA.

Understanding and modelling cites, defined as the tightly intertwined social-economic-environmental system that humanity now inhabits, requires addressing human agency, system-level effects of networks and complex coevolutionary dynamics. Analyzing and understanding these dynamics sheds light on a coevolutionary view of urban dynamics in the Anthropocene including multiple development pathways, obstacles, dangerous domains and the sought-after safe and just space for humanity.

Theory and models of biogeophysical dynamics are well established, and our efforts developing  an adaptive network and flexible framework for modelling social-economic-environmental urban dynamics, regime shifts and transformations in an emergent and dynamic way, are offering interesting perspectives.  Dynamic prescription of scenarios, including phenomena such as social learning, segregation, norm and value change, and group dynamics such as coalition formation are very promising.

Developments in artificial intelligence relate to biological and the natural world. Many algorithms and systems have been developed inspired by systems found in nature. Examples are evolutionary algorithms, artificial neural networks computational immunity systems, bio-robotics, swarm intelligence or optimization algorithms based on colonies, hives, or flocks. These ideas transformed how we develop new technologies and solve problems. Bio-inspired solutions benefit from the fact that nature has already refined a lot of the steps to make them as efficient as possible. Thus, we will develop disruptive technologies by combining engineering and natures fine-tuned solutions.

Can we, based on this knowledge, experiences, develop intelligent models to visualize urban dynamic relations, feedbacks with the ability to process relevant (!) amounts of critical data? Urban modeling supported by artificial intelligence, with its ability to analyze scores of information from varied sources, can tease out the interactions between attributes and let us understand and predict the levers across the system we need to activate to enact change. Could the increasingly complex systems needed to manage the next generation of megacities become our first true artificial intelligence?  As we already have the models to understand and describe urban systems, the next step is to build artificial intelligence capabilities into our urban system modelling. A fusion of AI and complex system science will be vital to fully understand the urban web of life and maximize social-economic and ecological assets and values and catalyze a myriad of innovations. A real-time digital ‘dashboard’ for urban system management that would enable the monitoring, modelling probabilistic programming and an array of statistical machine-learning techniques. A decision support system for the management of these complex systems at a scale and speed never before possible. We have our urban system modelling and AI methods to do this. The challenge is to build something truly transformational, easy to use in real-time, open-access and data-dense, initiative uses machine learning and simulation modelling (urban design & architecture) to create a 3-4D living model of a (specific) city. This will require collaboration among partners and so we are building a platform (we still have some hurdles to take) that can bring the breakthrough: prototyping a Digital Urban Twin in its full form.

We have a once-in-our-lifetime opportunity

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The Holocene epoch of the last 10,000 years or so is defined by highly unusual stability in the Earth system. In particular, the climate system shows little variability compared to the preceding late Pleistocene. The Holocene is now giving way to the Anthropocene, in which human influences introduce instability in the Earth system of a degree unprecedented in human history – but common in geological time. The consequences for all political institutions, not just those parts of government normally classified as environmental, are profound.

This unusually stable Earth system of the Holocene epoch of the past 10,000 years, in which human civilization arose, is yielding to a more dynamic and unstable Anthropocene driven by human practices. The consequences for key institutions such as states, markets, and global governance, are profound. Path dependency in institutions complicit in destabilizing the Earth system constrains response to this emerging epoch. Institutional analysis can highlight reflexivity as the antidote to problematic path dependency. A more ecological discourse stresses resilience, foresight and state shifts in the Earth system. Ecosystemic reflexivity can be located as the first virtue of political institutions in the Anthropocene. Undermining all normative institutional models, this analysis enables re-thinking of political institutions in dynamic social-ecological terms.

The domains  variening from the nitrogen and carbon cycles to ocean acidification, urbanization, and climate change, energy and material use etc– might at first appear vastly different. Yet there are also significant similarities. Importantly, all  domains exhibit key manifestations of the changed role of humankind in the planetary system, as it is captured in the notion of the Anthropocene. Each displays different dimensions, but all  are inevitably entangled in the complexities of the Anthropocene. Moreover, analysis manifests the global links through numerous interdependencies and teleconnections. The interdependencies, inequalities and disparities that are uncovered in exploring the domains have important consequences for the governance challenge of the Anthropocene and the underlying need for fundamental changes in social values and development pathways.

Physical non-linear systems, societal complexity, co-evolution of socio-epistemic formations, intricate feedback loops between the material and the mental, econophysics, city planning, ……. Complexity is, without a doubt, a more than appropriate term for the Anthropocene. The interconnection of entities, places, agencies, and times is a strong conviction across the disciplinary board when it comes to the world today. Thus, it has become difficult to imagine a system that is, indeed, non-complex. Problems tend to become ever more wicked, solutions ever more tentative and short-lived. There seems to be a general limit not only to understanding but also to the forms of representation itself.

Understanding the impact of the Anthropocene is understanding the Earth System as being influenced by biogeophysical feedbacks within the system that can maintain it in a given state (negative feedbacks) and those that can amplify a perturbation and drive a transition to a different state (positive feedbacks). Some of the key negative feedbacks that could maintain the Earth System in Holocene-like conditions— notably, carbon uptake by land and ocean systems—are weakening relative to human forcing, increasing the risk that positive feedbacks could play an important role in determining the Earth System’s trajectory. Most of the feedbacks can show both continuous responses and tipping point behavior in which the feedback process becomes self-perpetuating after a critical threshold is crossed; subsystems exhibiting this behavior are often called tipping elements. The type of behavior—continuous response or tipping point/abrupt change—can depend on the magnitude or the rate of forcing, or both. Many feedbacks will show some gradual change before the tipping point is reached.

Human feedbacks in the Earth System are an external force driving change to the Earth System in a largely linear, deterministic way; the higher the forcing in terms of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the higher the global average temperature. However, analysis argue that human societies and our activities need to be recast as an integral, interacting component of a complex, adaptive Earth System. This framing puts the focus not only on human system dynamics that reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also, on those that create or enhance negative feedbacks that reduce the risk that the Earth System will cross a planetary threshold and lock into a -as example Hothouse Earth pathway.

The Anthropocene holds out the potential to transcend the silently assumed dualism which haunts much of environmental thought; clearly demonstrating that Humanity is imbedded within, entwined with, and vulnerable to nature. Arguing that as Humanity is undoubtedly contained within and impacting nature through its activities and as nature can be seen to be responding reciprocally to those human activities, that both Humanity and Nature must be understood as existing as a singular interconnected system.

At its core, the Anthropocene commits the practice and understanding of human ethics to the unprecedented proportions and dynamics of the epoch. The entire physical scale of the planet—from the individual to the global—is compressed down to questions of conscience, responsibility, and empathy. This ethical reorientation extends not only for and towards one’s immediate neighbor, including the next proximity along the scale, but also to the very remote human, or non-human, entity. Modernity seems to have interrupted long-held principles of spatiotemporal ethics, defined by an integral continuity between past and future generations, as well as a clear positioning within an immediate environment.

Recognition of the Anthropocene connotes a powerful challenge to human institutions, as the non-human world becomes impossible to ignore as a central player in human history. This challenge merits more than response from environmental governance conceived as a niche area to be consigned to a government department or an academic sub-discipline, or even the ‘mainstreaming’ of ecological concerns into all areas of government. By confirming the causal force of human social processes in driving the character of the Earth system, whose instability in turn becomes a larger force, the Anthropocene forces a re-think of social-ecological systems and the place of political institutions therein (along with deep commitments about what constitutes rationality in these institutions and beyond). The depth, novelty, dynamism, and complexity of the challenge call to the ecosystemic dimension of reflexivity effectively understanding the active Earth system, the capacity to reconsider core values such as justice in this light, and ability to seek, receive, and respond to  potential ecological state shifts. This framework can be applied in institutional analysis, evaluation, and design in a way that is true to the dynamic nature of the Anthropocene, and so avoids the temptation to think in terms of static institutional models. Taking the Anthropocene seriously suggests an evolving institutionalism joining inquiry and practice, in the face of existing dominant institutions that fall so far short of the requirements of this emerging epoch.

 

Behaving like children rampaging through a sweetshop.

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We have to recognize that our impact is game-changing on this planet, that we are all responsible, and that we have to become stewards of nature – as a part of it, rather than behaving like children rampaging through a sweetshop.

The Anthropocene as new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record. And what a signature it will be. We have bored 50m kilometres of holes in our search for oil. We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain. The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads. Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally. The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries.

And the impacts of a still-avoidable sixth mass extinction would likely be so massive, catastrophic, widespread and, of course, irreversible. In the past, it has taken life ten to thirty million years to recover after such an extinction, 40 to 120 times as long as modern-looking humans have been telling tales by firelight. Future changes driven by humanity may go so far as to create not just a new epoch in geologic history – such as the Anthropocene – but a fundamental reshaping of Earth on par with the rise of microbes or the later shift from microbes to multicellular organisms.

We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come.

To be more specific: the Anthropocene is a compelling concept and has been beneficial, exposing the effects human actives have wrought within and upon nature – initiating the planet’s sixth mass extinction event, warming the planet and altering its climate through exorbitant emissions of greenhouse gases, triggering the warming, expansion and acidification of the oceans as well as the subsequent death of coral reefs and other ocean life; polluting and exhausting the Earth’s fresh water supply and landmass through intensive agricultural practices, mining, deforestation, and wasteful consumption; irradiating the planet through the prolific use of nuclear weapons; etcetera, and enabled thought to move beyond oversimplified and partial conceptualizations of climate change, localized views of pollution, isolated understandings of extinction, etcetera towards a more holistic understanding of diverse ecological crises as bound together through their relations to human activities. Rightly associating the manifold ecological crises arising within the contemporary world to the interactions humans have with nature.

The Earth System is usually defined as a single, planetary-level complex system, with a multitude of interacting biotic and abiotic components, evolved over 4.54 billion years and which has existed in well-defined, planetary-level states with transitions between them. A state defined as a distinct mode of operation persisting for tens of thousands to millions of years within some envelope of intrinsic variability.

This system is driven primarily by solar radiation and is influenced by other extrinsic factors, including changes in orbital parameters and occasional bolide strikes, as well as by its own internal dynamics in which the biosphere is a critical component. The trajectory of the Earth System is influenced by biogeophysical feedbacks within the system that can maintain it in a given state (negative feedbacks) and those that can amplify a perturbation and drive a transition to a different state (positive feedbacks). Some of the key negative feedbacks that could maintain the Earth System in Holocene-like conditions— notably, carbon uptake by land and ocean systems—are weakening relative to human forcing, increasing the risk that positive feedbacks could play an important role in determining the Earth System’s trajectory.

Most of the feedbacks can show both continuous responses and tipping point behavior in which the feedback process becomes self-perpetuating after a critical threshold is crossed; subsystems exhibiting this behavior are often called tipping elements. The type of behavior—continuous response or tipping point/abrupt change—can depend on the magnitude or the rate of forcing, or both. Many feedbacks will show some gradual change before the tipping point is reached.

Complexity is, without a doubt, a more than appropriate term for the Anthropocene. The evolving, dynamic synergies across socio-cultural, socio-economic system, environment, biodiversity, ecosystems, and climate, the interconnection of entities, places, agencies and times is a strong conviction across the disciplinary board when it comes to the world today. Physical non-linear systems, societal complexity, co-evolution of socio-epistemic formations, intricate feedback loops between the material and the mental, econophysics, urbanization, are challenging our knowledge and experience.

In the future, the Earth System could potentially follow many trajectories, often represented by the large range of global temperature rises simulated by climate models. In most analyses, these trajectories are largely driven by the amount of greenhouse gases that human activities have already emitted and will continue to emit into the atmosphere over the rest of this century and beyond—with a presumed quasilinear relationship between cumulative carbon dioxide emissions and global temperature rise. However, biogeophysical feedback processes within the Earth System coupled with direct human degradation of the biosphere may play a more important role than normally assumed, limiting the range of potential future trajectories and potentially eliminating the possibility of the intermediate trajectories. There is a significant risk that these internal dynamics, especially strong nonlinearities in feedback processes, could become an important or perhaps, even dominant factor in steering the trajectory that the Earth System actually follows over coming centuries.

Fysiek en mentaal gezond in de stad

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Menselijke sensorische organen en systemen evolueerden om te reageren op onze natuurlijke omgeving. We zijn intrinsiek nog steeds verbonden met de natuur. Ook zijn onze behoeftes op de natuur gebaseerd en we zijn in veel gevallen op de natuur aangewezen, zowel voor wat betreft onze fysieke en materiële behoeften (voedsel, kleding, werktuigen, bouwmaterialen, medicijnen, etc.). De natuur komt ook tegemoet aan onze kunstzinnige, emotionele, intellectuele en spirituele verlangens. Recente studies hebben aangetoond dat het leven in steden en stedelijke omgevingen onze fysieke en mentale gezondheid degradeert. Kunstmatige en besloten ruimten, gestandaardiseerde architectuur, lawaai of vervuiling verhogen het risico op het ontwikkelen van stress, angststoornissen, diabetes, cardiovasculaire en immuunziekten, enz.

Zijn onze lichamen en geesten gevangen in die lagen asfalt, glas en beton, gestikt door onze eigen activiteit? Het stadsleven, mentaal en fysiek welzijn zijn op veel manieren onderling verbonden. Dit web van onderlinge verbindingen is echter nog lang niet voldoende begrepen. We hebben tot nu toe grotendeels verzuimd om strategieën te ontwikkelen voor coördinatie van de bi-directionele interactie tussen stedelijk leven en mentaal en fysiek welzijn.

Hoewel we er niet echt op letten, analyseert ons lichaam en brein voortdurend tientallen stimuli uit de fysieke ruimte en activiteit om ons heen. Deze zintuiglijke ervaring heeft een grote invloed op de manier waarop we onze dagelijkse omgeving waarnemen en daarmee ook op onze fysiologie en psyche.

In veel gevallen werken de wetenschappelijke geneeskunde en onderzoekers in termen van afzonderlijke oorzaken (waar overigens helemaal niets mis mee is!): specifieke agentia die specifieke ziekten veroorzaken. Een infectie werd bijvoorbeeld alleen veroorzaakt door de proliferatie van bacteriën, terwijl andere soorten slechte gezondheid het gevolg kunnen zijn van virussen, toxines, ongelukken of gebreken in iemands genetische samenstelling. De acceptatie van het feit dat stress verband houdt met hart- en vaatziekten of met andere gezondheidsproblemen is alledaags geworden. Onderzoek toont echter ook veel wederzijdse verbanden tussen het centrale zenuwstelsel aan die ervaringen herkennen en registreren; het endocriene systeem, dat hormonen produceert die veel lichaamsfuncties besturen; en het immuunsysteem, dat reacties op infecties en andere uitdagingen organiseert.

Meer recent onderzoek, doch minder algemeen erkend, belicht de relaties tussen gezondheids- en gedragsmatige, psychologische en sociale variabelen. De associatie tussen sociaal-economische status en gezondheid, of de invloed van sociale netwerken, de kwaliteit van onze dagelijkse ruimtelijke leefomgeving, huidige of verwachte werkstatus en persoonlijke overtuigingen, zijn van groot belang voor fysieke en mentale gezondheid. Deze onderzoeken documenteren niet alleen het belang van deze factoren, maar beschrijven ook enkele van de betrokken mechanismen. Onderzoek naar de bi-directionele en multiniveau relaties tussen gedrag en gezondheid, ondersteund en bevestigd door technologie en door conceptuele ontwikkelingen in de gedrags-, biologische en medische wetenschappen levert steeds meer inzicht in de complexe relaties tussen mens en zijn omgeving. Ons begrip van de interacties tussen hersenfunctie fysieke gesteldheid en gedrag is verder verrijkt door vooruitgang in gedragsneurobiologie, neurowetenschappen en neuro-endocrinologie van moleculaire mechanismen tot psychologische systemen.

Op een biologisch niveau bestaat ons lichaam -dus- uit vele netwerken die geïntegreerd zijn in en communiceren op meerdere schaalniveaus. Van ons genoom tot de moleculen en cellen die de organen in ons lichaam vormen tot de externe relatie met onze maatschappelijke en natuurlijke omgeving, de wereld om ons heen. We zijn fundamenteel een netwerk van netwerken. Het is niet voldoende om slechts een deel van een systeem te begrijpen bij het bestuderen en begrijpen van de complexiteit van ons menselijk functioneren. Wat betekent dit precies? In welke zin is het geheel meer dan de som der delen? Het antwoord is: relaties. Alle essentiële eigenschappen van een levend systeem zijn afhankelijk van de relaties tussen de componenten van het systeem. Systeemdenken betekent denken in termen van relaties. Het leven begrijpen vereist een verschuiving van focus van ‘onderdelen’ naar relaties. Het doorzien en begrijpen van relaties betreft niet alleen de relaties tussen de componenten van het systeem, maar ook die tussen het systeem als geheel -bijvoorbeeld ons lichaam en psyche- en de omringende grotere systemen. Met de relaties tussen het systeem en zijn omgeving bedoelen we de context van ons functioneren.

Het is daarom van groot belang dat we beseffen dat wij meer zijn dan een statische configuratie van componenten in een geheel. Er is een voortdurende stroom van materie -voedsel- en energie door ons lichaam als een levend systeem; er is ontwikkeling en er is evolutie. Het begrijpen van ons lichaam en onze geest als levende structuur is onlosmakelijk verbonden met het begrip van metabole en ontwikkelingsprocessen. Dit omvat dus een accentverschuiving van structuur naar proces.

Het handhaven van constante en geschikte interne lichamelijke en mentale omstandigheden en het functioneren in het licht van veranderende omgevingsvariabelen wordt homeostase genoemd. Acute of chronische stress bestaat uit vele gelijktijdige verschuivingen in het fysiologische functioneren van de cardiovasculaire, respiratoire, musculaire, metabolische, immuun- en centrale zenuwstelsel. Fysiologische veranderingen kunnen gepaard gaan met veranderde emotionele reacties, verhoogde waakzaamheid, verhoogde risicobeoordeling, verbeterde geheugenopslag en herstel en motivatie.

Zodra we de processen en patronen van relaties tussen ons lichaam, geest en omgeving begrijpen zijn we veel beter in staat diagnoses te stellen die ons in staat stellen om het dagelijks leven te ondersteunen, weerbaarder te worden en te functioneren in een steeds complexer en versnellende samenleving. We zullen ons realiseren dat deze interferenties de fundamentele oorzaken zijn van veel huidige medische en psychische klachten.

Voor het versterken van ons menselijk welbevinden, of het wegnemen van belemmeringen daartoe, moeten we als eerste begrijpen hoe onze psyche, biologische constitutie en de maatschappelijke en fysieke omgeving waarin we verkeren op elkaar inwerken. Als tweede moeten we een gecoördineerde integratieve behandelstructuur uitwerken.

Voor het bevorderen van ons welzijn, reduceren van stress en verhogen van weerbaarheid en gezondheid moeten we de netwerken op verschillende schaalniveaus integreren. Dit om de oorzakelijkheidsketen van biologische en mentale disfuncties te formuleren en om dynamische, samenhangende oplossingen te bieden. Daarom biedt de Get Vital scan en het Get Vital progamma een zinvol inzicht om meer geïntegreerd toestandsovergangen in onze biologische systemen te analyseren, te behandelen en eventueel te voorspellen. Meer weten? yisc.nu