Monthly Archives: December 2000

Complex, adaptive systems

Note date! JCR authored this.

December 2, 2000

Applications and their Enabling Technologies for Adaptive Dynamic Systems

Adaptation to a dynamically changing world is essential. Look at computer science, economics, political science, communication, and hundreds of other fields: Wherever you look, no matter what the field or endeavor, there are applications and then there are underlying enabling technologies that enable applications. Applications can be adaptive and dynamic, and so can the underlying enabling technology.

In computer science, the theory of operating systems is the theory of enabling technologies.

Windows is an operating system on which applications run. It is also an enabling technology. It enables Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and hundreds of other applications to run in the complex multi-tasking, multi-device environment of a desktop computer.

In political science, the theory of democracy is a theory of enabling technologies. A constitution is a fundamental enabling technology. The process of legislating is an enabling technology as well. Legislation is provided for in constitutions, and thus a constitution is a more fundamental enabling technology than legislation. When is comes to adaptation, one would expect the more fundamental enabling technology (in this case constitutions) to adapt more slowly than the higher order technology, legislating.

In economics, the theory of capitalism is a theory of enabling technologies. Take a market, for example. A market for wheat futures at the Chicago Board of Trade is an enabling technology. CBOT abides by the laws of Illinois and the U.S. in setting up this marketplace. It provides the underlying infrastructure that makes it possible for millions of buyers of wheat to find millions of sellers. A buyer finds a seller through a market, and thus a market is a fundamental enabling technology that makes it possible to bring a buyer and seller together. In a market, the notion of a price provides a second enabling technology. As in other cases below, a market is more fundamental technology than a price. And – as such – one expects prices to adapt quickly to the dynamically changing world outside.

In communications, the theory of language is a theory of enabling technologies. Syntax and grammar, nouns and verbs are the language of democracies everywhere.

In the internet, it is not unusual to see even more dynamic and adaptive systems, There have been a proliferation of underlying enabling technologies that make there systems possible. Take book selling for example. Amazon.com routinely provides book reviews, provided by everyday people. One enabling technology is simply the technical capability of storing these reviews as they are written. But a very exciting additional enabling technology provides for other readers to grade the quality of the review.