In This Issue
Winter Issue of The Bridge on Complex Unifiable Systems
December 15, 2020 Volume 50 Issue 4
The articles in this issue are a first step toward exploring the notion of unifiability, not merely as an engineering ethos but also as a broader cultural responsibility.
Articles In This Issue
  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorGuru Madhavan, George Poste, William Rouse

    We live in fragmented worlds. Unbridged, tattered seams abound.

    The collision of four calamities—viral, racial, economic, and environmental—infected by human habits, hubris, and behavior as well as big tech, big media, and political acrimony are living examples. Calls for freedoms are ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorRichard N. Foster

    The essence of the word reflexive is to act on one’s self. Reflexive systems act on themselves. For example, if one instinctively scratches one’s arm, this is a reflexive action.

    Reflexive is closely related to a similar word, reflective. Looking at one’s reflection in a mirror ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorLeidy Klotz and John Pickering

    A defining feature of complex systems is that fully predicting the effects of changing them is impossible. Thankfully, engineers have never been deterred by the specter of impossibility.

    When it comes to designing in complex systems, however, there remains an obstacle to unleashing the full force ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorElisabeth Paté-Cornell

    The complexity of engineered systems can be baffling, scary, and paralyzing. From fear of flying to fear of nuclear power plants, people have expressed their reluctance about technologies that are useful but, to some variable degree, risky.

    Failure risks generally have to be managed under ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorSusan M. Fitzpatrick

    Although scientists and engineers know that many of the hardest problems daunting society and in dire need of solutions are complex, the tendency in the academic research community is to pursue its work as though problems are simple.

    Seeing Holes—and Their Absence

    Complex systems ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorDarryl L. Farber, Douglas Melton, and Monty Alger

    Engineering practitioners, researchers, and educators struggle with complex systems. They keep us humble. Even as understanding improves about the complexity of both the natural and the artificial worlds and the interactions between them, and with growing knowledge about how complexity is generated ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorKaty Börner

    Most systems that matter are complex. Common to all complex systems is the fact that they are composed of many different components, whose interaction leads to emergent behavior that is hard to predict.

    Human evolution has favored local, short-term thinking and action. We are the children of those ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorChandrakant D. Patel

    In the 19th and early 20th centuries engineering was about the industrialization of physical and electromechanical systems like the steam engine and utility grid. The latter half of the 20th century was about information management, cybersystems, and the internet. The 21st century is about the ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorBrian S. Collins

    There’s often a tendency to simplify complex systems. One should realize the risk in doing so. Simplification of complex matters does not improve the situation of the issue at hand. To deal with a system’s complexity it is necessary to understand the scope and interdependencies of its ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorMichael Muthukrishna

    Humans are a different kind of animal, dependent on not just genes but culture. We rely heavily on this socially acquired knowledge.

    Over generations culture has shaped the human genome. Our guts are too short and our jaws are too weak for raw food and yet we don’t have instincts for cooking ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorCésar A. Hidalgo

    While the idea of increasing returns—the tendency for what is ahead to get further ahead—has been part of economics since the pin factory, it was long resisted by economists. The reasons were both simple and profound.

    For decades, economists had a strong preference for models with a ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorChristopher G. Glazner

    For decades this country has seen the decay of former industrial centers, the rise of opioid addiction, an increase in chronic homelessness, widening economic inequality, and the overrepresentation of minority populations in the criminal justice system.

    No one desires these outcomes, and there ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorPeter Levine

    Imagine that some college students have volunteered to serve meals at a homeless shelter. They love the experience because they are helping others. During the reflection session after the meal, one student remarks, “Serving the homeless was so great! I hope this shelter will still be open 50 ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorCora Bagley Marrett

    Consider the trifecta of forces that have recently shaken the United States: the coronavirus pandemic, economic dislocations, and social justice protests. All three show that the actions and dispositions of individuals matter, as do group processes, community forces, and directions in the broader ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorBrendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi

    Policing in the United States is decentralized. There are more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies, many with overlapping jurisdictions. They each have their own organizational culture, their own protocols for selection and training, and even their own procedures for recording and reporting data. ...

  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    AuthorRichard J. Danzig

    The 2018 report A Preface to Strategy: The Foundations for American -National Security pointed out that the United States “cannot wisely respond to -twenty-first-century challenges predominantly by increasing traditional military investments” (Danzig et al. 2018, p. 14). Indeed, ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorDenis A. Cortese and Curtiss B. Cook

    The current US healthcare “system” is not meeting the needs of patients or society. This is not a novel conclusion, but the need for change has been made much more salient by covid-19.

    What is the biggest lesson of the pandemic? The US healthcare delivery system, social systems, and ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorHamilton Moses III and George Poste

    Health care in the United States, unlike most developed countries, has no central system for prioritization, coordination, or financing of care and services. This void has been filled by insurers and employers, spawning a host of intermediaries that direct the flow of patients, information, and ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorKaren DeSalvo

    Public health is what society does to create the conditions in which everyone can be healthy. The US public health community and its partners have been striving for years to articulate the structural and mission challenges of the country’s public health system. But the covid-19 pandemic has ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorHarvey V. Fineberg

    Global pandemics result from an emerging infection that causes notable disease in many countries in different parts of the world. At the margins—exactly how many countries and continents and with what degree of disease severity—public health authorities may dicker over the definition or ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorSimon A. Levin

    François Jacob (1977), in his essay “Evolution and Tinkering,” brilliantly made the case that the world has self-assembled, constrained by history: Organisms have not been designed from scratch as the best solutions to the puzzles of survival and reproduction s, but are the ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorDavid Sloan Wilson and Guru Madhavan

    Here is a provocative fact: Searching Web of Science for articles with the words complex adaptive system in the title yields 1006 results as of this writing; searching for articles with the words complex maladaptive system in the title yields zero results.

    Why such an imbalance? Granted, complex ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorChristopher P. Kempes and Geoffrey B. West

    One of the most striking phenomena that has dominated the planet over the last 2 centuries is the extraordinary rate of urbanization. Averaging to the mid-21st century, this is now equivalent to adding a metropolitan New York City every few months or a country the size of Germany every year.[1]


  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorZachary Pirtle

    To help engineers exploring how best to unify complex systems, I offer observations from the history of the philosophy of science, focusing on unity (and disunity) among engineering and scientific disciplines. Unity involves the extent to which different disciplines share common features, but this ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorJohn V. Lombardi, Michael M.E. Johns, William B. Rouse, and Diane D. Craig

    Complexities in higher education are due to cultural legacies, differences among disciplines, and resource disparities across institutions. These differences suggest that one-size-fits-all higher education policies will be ineffective. Policies need to both be tailored to these differences and ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorJeffrey Wilcox and Dinesh Verma

    A decade ago we participated in a small colloquium on systems thinking.[1] The people gathered were interested in defining complexity from a pragmatic perspective. The views were different, subjective, even confusing. We were tempted to conclude that complexity may be no different from beauty: it ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorJason Crabtree

    Today’s digital societies are more connected and interconnected than ever before. Nevertheless, subtle and substantive long-term changes have been afoot. Current thinking about risk management across organizations and practices has not kept pace with this emerging reality, in part because the ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorNorman R. Augustine

    The history of major engineering projects traces back at least 5000 years. It began in earnest with the construction of large stationary structures: pyramids, walls, roads, bridges, and aqueducts—what became known as civil engineering. The need to construct objects whose parts move relative ...

  • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    AuthorJill Tietjen

    RON LATANISION (RML): We’re delighted that you’re available to talk with us about your experience as both an electrical engineer and as a writer and speaker and mentor, encouraging young women in science and engineering—all these things are so important.

    MS. TIETJEN: Thank you. ...