Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Risk analysis for a complex world


Developing adaptable systems for finance and international relations could help reduce the risk of major systemic collapses such as the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new analysis.

The increasing complexity and interconnection of socioeconomic and environmental systems leaves them more vulnerable to seemingly small risks that can spiral out of control, according to the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study examines risks are perceived as extremely unlikely or small, but because of interconnections or changes in systems, can lead to major collapses or crises. These risks, which the researchers term “femtorisks,” can include individuals such as terrorists, dissidents, or rogue traders, or factors like climate change, technologies, or globalization.

“A femtorisk is a seemingly small-scale event that can trigger, often through complex chains of events, consequences at much higher levels of organization,” says Princeton University professor and IIASA Distinguished Visiting Fellow Simon Levin, who adopted the term (originally suggested by co-organizer Joshua Ramo) together with an international group of experts during a 2011 IIASA conference on risk modeling in complex adaptive systems.

Levin explains, “A complex adaptive system is a system made up of individual agents that interact locally, with consequences at much higher levels of organization, which feed back in turn to affect individual behaviors. The individual agents can be anything from cells and molecules, to birds in a flock, to traders in a market, to each and every one of us in the global environment.”

The complexity of such systems makes it difficult or even impossible to model the outcomes of specific changes or risks, particularly very small or seemingly insignificant ones. The study examines several examples of such femtorisks that set off major crises, including the credit default swaps that led to the 2008 financial crisis, the recent protests in the Middle East and Ukraine that led to the broad upheavals in both regions’ political systems, and the warming temperatures in the Arctic that have led to massive international interest in the region for mining and economic development.

Risk management for an unpredictable world
In light of such unpredictable risks, the researchers say, the most resilient management systems are those that can adapt to sudden threats that have not been explicitly foreseen. In particular, the researchers suggest a model drawing on biological systems such as the vertebrate immune system, which have evolved to respond to unpredictable threats and adapt to new situations.

“In practice it is generally impossible to identify which of these risks will end up being the important ones,” says Levin. “That is why flexible and adaptive governance is essential.”

The general principles of such management include: effective surveillance, generalized and immediate initial responses, learning and adaptive responses, and memory, say the researchers. Levin says, “We need to design systems to automatically limit the potential for catastrophic contagious spread of damage, and to complement that with effective and flexible adaptive responses.”

Frank AJ, Collins MG, Levin SA, Lo AW, Ramo J, Dieckmann U, Kremenyuk V, Kryazhimskiy A, Linnerooth-Bayer J, Ramalingam B, Stapleton Roy J, Saari DG, Thurner S, von Winterfeldt D. 2014. Dealing with femtorisks in international relations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Doi:10.1073/pnas.1400229111

For more information contact:

Simon Levin
Princeton University
IIASA Distinguished Visiting Fellow
Tel: +1 609 258 6880

Margaret Goud Collins
IIASA Secretary - Science and NMO'sDirectorate
Council and External Relations
+43(0) 2236 807 354

Holly Welles
Princeton University Environmental Institute
Communications and Outreach
+1 609-258-6456

Katherine Leitzell
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 316
Mob: +43 676 83 807 316

About IIASA:
IIASA is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policy makers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by scientific institutions in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. 

Katherine Leitzell | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Analysis IIASA Sciences economic development warming temperatures

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>