Complex Systems 2016

The New Forest Conference on Complex Systems 2016


1 - 3 June, 2016
New Forest, UK

200x250 CS16Overview

The 2nd International Conference on Complex Systems took place in the New Forest National Park which is home to the Wessex Institute. The meeting was co-sponsored by that Institute and the Open University, both of the UK.

The conference, as before, brought together practitioners of many different disciplines interested in developing and discussing new applications for solving complex issues using multi-agent technology and similar distributed approaches.

Complexity science is a new way of interpreting reality. Pre-formed thoughts are at the core of complexity science (J Vasbinder). Complex issues exhibit a series of attributes such as connectivity, autonomy, emergence, nonequilibrium, self-organisation, nonlinearity and co-evolution.

Opening of the Conference

Prof Carlos A Brebbia, Director of Wessex Institute and Co-chairman of the conference, with Prof George Rzevski, opened the conference.

Carlos referred to the importance of the conference programme for the Wessex Institute, the function of which is to disseminate knowledge and act as a forum for international collaboration.

The conference programme, Carlos explained, is also a source of inspiration for the work of WIT and its cooperation with other institutions. In this regard, this Complex Systems meeting is essential to acquire new ideas and for the Institute’s research to evolve.

WIT – Carlos said – is renowned throughout the world as a centre for innovative computer solutions, having developed its own technique (Boundary Element Method) which is now widely used in engineering and sciences. The Institute is constantly applying its computer tools to a variety of new problems. This process of continuous evolution is the main reason for the success of WIT’s work.

Another important activity of WIT is the dissemination of knowledge through its WIT Press publishing arm. The aim is to disseminate the work as widely as possible. All conference and journal papers – Carlos said – are now available Open Access in the WIT eLibrary at (, from where they can be downloaded. The papers presented at this conference, for instance, are published in the prestigious International Journal of Design and Nature, whose Honorary Editor is the late Ilya Prigogine, who is acknowledged as the originator of complexity theory.

The Institution, in conjunction with the University of Siena, launched an Award in Prigogine’s honour following his death in 2003. A medal is given annually to a renowned scientist whose work relates to the pioneering research of Prigogine.

Carlos ended his introductory remarks by thanking the delegates for participating in this important conference, and hoping that they will find the meeting useful and be able to make new contacts. He also hoped that he managed to convey the objectives of the Institute and its commitment to international knowledge transfer. He then proceeded to introduce his Co-chairman, Prof George Rzevski, who delivered the keynote address.

George welcomed the delegates and expressed his hope that the meeting will lead to the setting up of an international group, something that is already taking place.

The father of Complexity – George mentioned – was Prigogine who set up the foundations for current research. He established the basis of modern science and the concept of unpredictability in many processes.

Keynote Addresses

Prof George Rzevski's keynote address was on the topic of “Harnessing the power of self-organization”. He referred to the fact that the complexity of our social, economic, political, administrative, business and technological environments is relentlessly increasing. In spite of that, our organisations and institutions have been designed to work in deterministic environments. Current IT systems are deterministic and unable to cope with complexity.

The main question – George said – is how to redesign organisations that are not deterministic and this can only be done by the use of large scale complex adaptive systems. This will lead to the knowledge of how they behave and draw conclusions from it.

Complexity is a property of organisations consisting of a very large number of diverse components called agents, engaged in rich interaction with each other without a central control.

Complex systems are distinguished by the following factors:

  • Connectivity
  • Autonomy of agents
  • Emergent behaviour
  • Nonequilibrium
  • Nonlinearity
  • Self-organisation
  • Co-evolution

Complexity provides self-organisation and co-evolution. Examples of that are all around us in nature, with complexity breeding complexity. The Digital evolution which we are now experiencing offers another important example of complexity, originating in a constant non-equilibrium state, continually evolving.

Adaptation is an essential component of complex systems. It can remedy situations that otherwise would prove to be catastrophic, leading to failure.

When an attack takes place, the system ought to be able to neutralise it, ie the system should have sufficient resilience to defend itself. George also discussed the different aspects of complex systems, including conflict resolution and even constructive destruction.

He finally referred to the work done by his team in applications such as for the international Space Station, car rental schedules, supply chain schedule, research input between the UK and Russia, adaptive data mining for an insurance company, real-time scheduling of trains and many others.

The deterministic world – George said - assures that the world has been understood to “a good degree”, the future is – in principle – determinable and uncertainty is due to our lack of knowledge. Complex systems instead believe that the world is unpredictable and uncertain, the future emerging and uncertainty is an inherent property of complexity.

The next keynote address was given by Prof Boris Stilman of University of Colorado in Denver, who is also the CEO of his own consulting company, Stilman Advanced Strategies. His talk was entitled “Linguistic geometry, resolving complexities of defense systems”. The work was based on Boris’ extensive experience working with the USA Department of Defense.

Boris mentioned the famous research of John Von Newmann saying that there should be one language of the human brain; the one used for thinking; a sort of primary language. This language is the language of Visual Streams.

His group analysed the work of different scientists. One of the consequences was the discovery of the concept of Linguistic Geometry which allowed problems to be solved without searches. Boris applied this idea to defence applications, regarding how to interpret the multiplicity of information that is given to the operator of advanced defence systems. It is based on the ability to predict from those large amounts of data.

The idea was developed through war games between the different teams, one of which was controlled by the software, something that the other team did not know. It was found that the conclusions bypassing the software advice led to poor performance. As a result of these tests the US Army decided to use the software.

Prof Stilman described other interesting problems that were researched by his company while developing optimum defence systems, such as the power of his computer systems by reproducing modern and ancient wars. Furthermore the ideas were applied for battles as early as those fought by Alexander the Great. The results of Boris Spilman’s research demonstrate the existence of a primary language which leads to the same way of thinking.

Invited Presentations

Other interesting invited talks were:

  • “Complexity Science and Classical Chinese Thought”, by Jan Vasbinder, Singapore Republic Government, Singapore.
  • “Towards the Autonomy of Urban Management: Simple Systems as a Solution for Complex Urban Environment”, by Robert Barelkowski, West-Pomeranian University of Technology, Poland.
  • “On a Maturity Model for Complexity, Complex Systems and Complex Systems Engineering” by Brian White, Complexity are Us, USA.
  • “Complex Adaptive Logistics for the International Space Station”, by Petr Skobelev, Smart Solutions Ltd, Russia.
  • “Health Research, Teaching and Provision of Care: Applying a New Approach Based on Complex Systems”, by Alan Brook, University of Adelaide, Australia.

Selected conference papers of excellent quality appeared in a special issue of the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol 11, Issue 4, 2016.

Social Occasions

The meeting was characterised by the high level of the discussions and interaction amongst participants. This took place during the sessions as well as over coffee and lunch breaks.

A special lunch BBQ was arranged during the first day to encourage interaction and gave the delegates the opportunity to visit parts of the WIT Campus. The BBQ consisted of roasted lamb, for which the New Forest is well known. It was accompanied by salads and fruits, as well as a variety of drinks and sweets. Some of the delegates were then shown around the main research areas of the Campus where they could better appreciate the work of WIT.

A special excursion was arranged during the conference, including a guided tour of Southampton. The delegates saw parts of the City, containing within its walls a series of buildings which still remain from the time the town was fortified against invaders. Southampton was also a prosperous port during the reign of the Hanoverian Kings, which left behind a number of Georgian buildings in town, some of which have now been fully restored.

The sinking of the Titanic produced a major traumatic experience for the town as many of the crew members were natives of Southampton. This is commemorated in the recently built City Museum which relates its maritime history and shows a substantial amount of material related to the ill-fated liner. (WIT Press has published an interesting story about the Titanic citing the fate of one of the victims, an Anglo-Argentine passenger who was extremely unlucky in being able, at the last moment, to change his booking on another ship for one on the Titanic!)

Southampton is now a very busy, major port with a rich history, starting from the first Roman settlement, becoming a sizeable town in Saxon times, to now being one of the most successful Ocean cruise cities in the world.

The Conference Banquet took place in a well-known restaurant in Lymington, which is a town with an extensive marina and several sailing clubs. Lymington, which is also in the New Forest, has many visitors in the summer. The town is famous for its beautiful quay, the reminder of its importance as a trading port in the past. It also holds a traditional Saturday market in the High Street which attracts visitors from a large region.

The main course consisted of first quality steak, accompanied by excellent wines.

At the end of the meal Carlos expressed his appreciation to the delegates for having attended the dinner and offered them a piece of specially commissioned pottery as a souvenir of the visit. He hoped that they had enjoyed the visit to the New Forest and, in particular, the WIT Campus.

The meeting was closed by Carlos who thanked the participants for attending the meeting and hope that they would be able to come to the next conference in 2018.

Associated meetings

Design & Nature 2016
Sustainable City 2017