Can the laws of physics untangle traffic jams, stock markets, and other complex systems? | 2/1/2018 | Staff
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In 1998 former tech consultant Hank Eskin launched a campaign to track dollar bills. Through the "Where's George?" initiative, dollars were stamped with messages about the currency tracking project, and people were instructed to enter their zip codes and the serial number found on the stamped bills into a database, before handing over the currency.

The tracking of these dollar bills was an early study of human travel patterns and "complex systems."

System - Concept - Seminars - Term - System

A complex system is an often-nebulous concept; entire seminars are devoted to defining the term. But, put simply, a complex system is anything composed of many parts that interact in such a fashion that the overall behavior of the system is entirely dependent on the interaction and is something different from a sum of the parts. Complex systems include financial markets, street networks, and even the human brain, made up of a system of neurons that work together to allow a person to think, make decisions, and perform day to day tasks.

"When you think of things like the human brain or the stock market, the market, for instance, exists only because of the interaction of buying and trading," says Gourab Ghoshal, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Rochester, who studies complex systems. "If you have one trader, there is no market. If you only have one neuron, there is no brain."

Today - Availability - Traces - Researchers - Ghoshal

Today, the increasing availability of digital traces provides researchers like Ghoshal and the members of his lab an incredible amount of data for complex systems research. Using GPS location tracking, check-ins on apps like Foursquare, geocaching from Twitter posts, and, under some circumstances, call data records from cell phones, they are able to find patterns in human mobility, traffic, and disease progressions with greater accuracy and precision than ever before. But the amount of data available also...
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