Complexity :

Scheduled post no.4:

  • What is complexity?

In the year 2016, the World Economic Forum released a comparative chart of the 10 topmost skills of 2015 and 2020:

While there is some shuffling of the rank number of some skills ( critical thinking has moved from no.4 in 2015 to no.2 in 2020, and creativity has shot up from no.10 in 2015 to no.3 in 2020, and some new skills are listed for 2020, in both the lists at the top we have “ complex problem solving”. If we want to be future ready or future fit as the Prime Minister exhorted in his convocation address at IIT Guwahati, acquiring the skill of complex problem solving may be the most important one.

It is well accepted that solvable problems may be classified into four distinct types: Simple, Complicated, Complex, and Chaotic. It turns out that you can neatly put almost every problem we face into one of these types, and each type requires quite a different strategy.

Simple problems are solved just by following the rules — there’s only one solution and it’s well known. Complicated domains are ones where the rules are known and predictable — but the rules are significant and cannot be instinctively understood without some training. Complex domains, though, are ones that cross multiple domains and one can’t predict whether a change in one part might affect another. And finally, chaotic domains are where, even when witnessing a change, one can’t be certain of cause and effect. They are often also referred to as ‘wicked problems’. Because of the complex interdependence the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.

Complex systems research is now becoming more important in both the natural and social sciences. It is commonly implied that there is such a thing as a complex system, different examples of which are studied across many disciplines.

Complexity science was invented in the post-nuclear age when different scientists and social scientists came together during the Los Alamos experiment to invent the nuclear bomb. Having discovered that it was fun working with people outside their own narrow disciplines, a group created the Santa Fe Institute, the first think tank dedicated to complex, multidisciplinary thinking.

To deal with Complex Problems we have to agree on its definition to make any progress. The linked article (too long) explain the challenges in defining this field but starts with a definition which is:

“Complex Problem Solving tasks are situations that are: (1) *dynamic* because early actions determine the environment in which subsequent decision must be made, and features of the task environment may change independently of the solver’s actions; (2) *time- dependent* because decisions must be made at the correct moment in relation to environmental demands; and (3) *complex*, in the sense that most variables are not related to each other in a one-to-one manner. In these situations, the problem requires not one decision, but a long series, in which early decisions condition later ones.”

Complexity characterises the behaviour of a system or model whose components  interact in multiple ways and follow local rules, meaning there is no reasonable higher instruction to define the various possible interactions.

The term is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways, culminating in a higher order of “emergence” which is greater than the sum of its parts. An example of emergence is the act of walking on 2 legs. On ne leg alone, we can just hop. But walking on 2 legs is more than just hopping with 2 legs. And a dance form has a greater elegance than robots performing similar motions. The study of these complex linkages at various scales is the main goal of complexity theory. 

The present situation is that “even among scientists, there is no agreement on a unique definition of complexity – and the scientific notion has traditionally been conveyed using particular examples…” Ultimately a generally accepted  definition of “complexity science” is “the study of the phenomena which emerge from a collection of interacting objects”.

Link to the Wikipedia article:

Complexity in computation : 

In computer science, the computational complexity or simply complexity of an  algorithm is the amount of resources required to run it. Particular focus is given to time and memory requirements. 

The study of the complexity of explicitly given algorithms is called analysis of algorithms, while the study of the complexity of problems is called computational complexity theory. Both areas are highly related, as the complexity of an algorithm is always an an upper bound on the complexity of the problem solved by this algorithm.

       The field of complexity can be considered to have the following domains as its main constituents: 

  • Self organisation and emergence 
  • Non-linear systems and chaos theory
  • Network Theory 
  • Complex Adaptive Systems

Here is a short video (11 minutes) that provides an overview and briefly and simply describes the above 4 elements:

Here is another slightly longer video that relates complexity theory  to educational change (15 minutes)  :

Here is another 8 minute video explaining ‘emergence’ and systems thinking :

About mmpant

Prof. M.M.Pant has a Ph.D in Computational Physics, along with a Professional Law Degree, and has been a practitioner in the fields of Law, IT enabled education and IT implementation. Drawing upon his experience in world class international institutions and having taught in various modes of Face-to-Face, Distance Learning and Technology Enhanced Training, Prof. Pant is now exploring the nature of institutions which will be successors to the IITs, which represented the 1960s, IIMs, which represented the 1970 and Open Universities which were the rage of 1980s & 90s. He believes that the convergence between various media and technologies would fundamentally alter the way learning would be created, packaged, and delivered to learners. His current activities are all directed toward actual implementation of these new age educational initiatives that transform education in the post Internet post WTO era.. Prof. Pant, has been a Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and has been on the faculty of IIT – Kanpur (the premier Engineering institution in India), MLNR Engineering College and Faculty & Visiting Professor - University of Western Ontario-Canada. He has been visiting scientist to research centers in Italy, England, Germany & Sweden and has delivered international lectures with about 80 papers published. During his association of almost 15 years with the IGNOU, Prof. Pant has served as the Director Computing and has been the Member of All Bodies (i.e. School boards, Academic council, Planning board, Finance committee and the Board of management). With his interest in Law, backed with practice of Law in a High Court, and his basic training in Science and IT, Prof. Pant has been particularly interested in the Cyber Law, Patent & trade mark issues, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues etc. and has been involved with many activities, conferences on “Law & IT” Prof. Pant is presently; • Advisor to Media Lab Asia - Chairman of working group on ICT for Education, chairman of PRSG handling projects on ICT for education. • Lead Consultant for an ADB funded project for ICT in Basic Education in Uzbekistan • Member of the drafting Group for India’s National Policy on ICT in education • Chairman of the group creating books for class 11 and 12 students on ‘Computers and Communication Technology’ appointed by the NCERT • Preparing a ‘Theme Paper” for the NCTE in the area of ICT and Teacher Training • Advisor and mentor to several leading Indian and Multi-national Companies in the area of education. Prof. Pant has in the recent past been ; • Member – Board of Management – I I T, Delhi for 6 years (two consecutive terms) • One-man committee to create the Project Report & Legislation for Delhi IT-enabled Open University • Advisor to the Delhi Government on Asian Network of Major Cities Project (ANMC-21) distance learning project in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Government. • Chairman Board of Studies, All India Management Association With his mission to create and implement new business opportunities in the area of e-learning & learning facilitation, Prof. Pant has promoted Planet EDU Pvt. Ltd., as its Founder & Chairman, along with a team of highly experienced and skilled professionals from Education & Training, Operations, IT and Finance.
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