How resilient is a complex system? Is it near collapse?

Barabasi art

Albert-​​László Barabási and his colleagues have published a breakthrough paper in Nature about the first-ever tool they developed to identify whether complex systems—be they technological, ecological, or biological—are in danger of failing. Will they collapse under disconnections/ disruptions, partial failures & outages, efficiency streamlining/ simplification/ cleansing/ isolation and loss of diversity? And they can define and measure a resilience index which describes how far the total system is from total catastrophic network failure.

  1. Their paper is presented in the following article:  (I recommend you watch the video from this article). I show part of that article here:

================== part of the article=========

Hon­ey­bees have been dying in record num­bers, threat­ening the con­tinued pro­duc­tion of nutri­tious foods such as apples, nuts, blue­ber­ries, broc­coli, and onions. Without bees to pol­li­nate these crops, the envi­ron­mental ecosystem—and our health—stands in the bal­ance. Have we reached the tip­ping point, where the plant-​​pollinator system is due to collapse?

There was no way to cal­cu­late that—until now.

Using sta­tis­tical physics, North­eastern net­work sci­en­tist Albert-​​László Barabási and his col­leagues Jianxi Gao and Baruch Barzel have devel­oped a tool to iden­tify that tip­ping point—for every­thing from eco­log­ical sys­tems such as bees and plants to tech­no­log­ical sys­tems such as power grids. It opens the door to plan­ning and imple­menting pre­ven­tive mea­sures before it’s too late, as well as preparing for recovery after a disaster.

The tool, described in a new paper pub­lished on Wednesday in the pres­ti­gious journal Nature, fills a long­standing gap in sci­en­tists’ under­standing of what deter­mines “resilience”—that is, a system’s ability to adjust to dis­tur­bances, both internal and external, in order to remain functional.

The failure of a system can lead to serious con­se­quences, whether to the envi­ron­ment, economy, human health, or tech­nology,” said Barabási, Robert Gray Dodge Pro­fessor of Net­work Sci­ence and Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Physics. “But there was no theory that con­sid­ered the com­plexity of the net­works under­lying those systems—that is, their many para­me­ters and com­po­nents. That made it very dif­fi­cult, if not impos­sible, to pre­dict the sys­tems’ resilience in the face of dis­tur­bances to those para­me­ters and components.”

Our tool, for the first time, enables those pre­dic­tions,” said Barabási, who is also a leader in Northeastern’s Net­work Sci­ence Institute.


2. Here is the summary of the Paper: ( )


Universal resilience patterns in complex networks

530, 307–312
(18 February 2016)
13 July 2015
14 December 2015
Published online
17 February 2016

Resilience, a system’s ability to adjust its activity to retain its basic functionality when errors, failures and environmental changes occur, is a defining property of many complex systems1. Despite widespread consequences for human health2, the economy3 and the environment4, events leading to loss of resilience—from cascading failures in technological systems5 to mass extinctions in ecological networks6—are rarely predictable and are often irreversible. These limitations are rooted in a theoretical gap: the current analytical framework of resilience is designed to treat low-dimensional models with a few interacting components7, and is unsuitable for multi-dimensional systems consisting of a large number of components that interact through a complex network. Here we bridge this theoretical gap by developing a set of analytical tools with which to identify the natural control and state parameters of a multi-dimensional complex system, helping us derive effective one-dimensional dynamics that accurately predict the system’s resilience. The proposed analytical framework allows us systematically to separate the roles of the system’s dynamics and topology, collapsing the behaviour of different networks onto a single universal resilience function. The analytical results unveil the network characteristics that can enhance or diminish resilience, offering ways to prevent the collapse of ecological, biological or economic systems, and guiding the design of technological systems resilient to both internal failures and environmental changes.



Please notice the definition of “Resilience” in the summary. The crux of this research IMHO is not only to retain resilience under deminishing connectivity (quantities) but also under loss of DIVERSITY (of species, tribes, parts of foodchains/ valuechains that die or are disconnected (BREXIT ?)). 

3. As mentioned in the remarks below is the very exiting work of ecologist Prof. Marten Scheffer and his team at Wageningen University ( WUR, NL) , I recommend you watch his video lecture mentioned below in the remarks. He suggested me to read his paper in Nature: “Anticipating Critical Transitions ” , which is available on Internet at:

and his recent work, together with Ingrid van de Leemput on “sudden depression”  (just to remind you that the human mind is a dynamic & non-linear & complex networked system too !):

Leemput et al 2013 PNAS : ” Critical slowing down as early warning for the onset and termination of depression “

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 14.47.23

4. I hope that the groups of Barabasi and Scheffer can interconnect and build an resilient ecosystem for this extremely important subject, vital for survival on this planet !


Jaap van Till, TheConnectivist

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5 Responses to How resilient is a complex system? Is it near collapse?

  1. Frank Eetgerink says:

    Jaap, you should also consider Marten Scheffer on this topic. See and his lecture at PBL

    • broodjejaap says:

      Thank you very much Frank ! This is valuable and contributes to the discussion about this subject. I have seen and enjoyed the video of his PBL lecture and did see you in the audience 🙂 I will try to contact prof. Marten Scheffer and prof. Laslo Barabasi and ask if they know each others work. And if not I will try to connect them since they can enhance their research by putting some techniques together to get some synergy in this very VITAL subject.

  2. kwalitisme says:

    De onderzoeken richten zich met name op de vraag hoe een complex systeem stabiel gehouden kan worden. Ik vraag mij af of dat de juiste instelling is. Naar mijn mening is stabiliteit onnatuurlijk. Het universum is instabiel en dankzij die instabiliteit ontwikkelt het zich. Ik denk dan ook dat ‘stabiliteit’ een wens is van de mensheid om zaken te kunnen beheersen, terwijl naar mijn mening die beheersbaarheid losgelaten moet worden en veel meer met instabiliteit rekening gehouden moet worden. Geen maakbare samenleving of ecosysteem, maar iets dat inherint instabiel is. Waarschijnlijk is er een oerkracht, mogelijk die waaruit alles ontstaan is, die stabiel is en ervoor zorgt (door het principe van actie is reactie) dat kleinere, onderliggende systemen door de instabliteit van omringende systemen, spontane veranderingen door gaan voeren.
    Kijkend naar klimaatverandering: het is een reactie van een groter complex systeem (noem het maar even ‘de natuur’) op acties van onderliggende systemen.
    Hoewel het leuk is als je van een klein, beperkt complex systeem het tipping point kunt voorspellen, omdat het aantal bovenliggende en omvattende complexe systemen oneindig is, zegt dit uiteindelijk niets over welke reacties zullen volgen op het bereiken van het tipping point.
    Ik geef toe dat dit niet de meest verhelderende uitleg is, maar het is maandagochtend 😉

    • broodjejaap says:

      Sure nothing is forever unchanged. But you might want your body not to desintegrate suddenly do you.
      This blog is not about control at all but about constructing complex structures that contain a large diversity of contributors like cities or communities.

  3. Pingback: Conference on Complex Systems, Amsterdam Sept 19 -22 | The Connectivist

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