The rate of increase of complexity in everyday life is astonishing. The sum total of human knowledge doubles every two to four years – the estimates vary, but the time-frames are small whoever does the research. Whether it is air traffic control or financial markets trading – both hugely intense processes which still involve the human brain at the core – our brains, our mental capacity and processing did not evolve to deal with the huge volumes of knowledge and complex problems that daily life delivers us in the twenty first century. There are plenty of other examples.

 

We have seen financial disasters, we have seen airplane disasters and we have seen large scale terrorist events. Most were foreseeable, manageable or preventable, but we didn’t have the systems to do that. The human brain and the organizational and systems structures could not do the job. We can systematize the processes, but our decision support approaches are essentially linear, when complexity is developing logarithmically. We cannot build infrastructure and grow people to deal with the problem – Malthus taught us that. Neither can we afford these solutions – the law of diminishing returns illustrates that only too well.

Moore’s law says that computer power doubles every eighteen months, and there’s no sign of that slowing. So, how can we harness that huge growth in power to deal with the exponential growth in the complexity of daily life? Companies like Saffron Technology are researching potential solutions with new-model artificial intelligence approaches. These are based on combining structured and unstructured data to build an associative memory base. When a learning core has access to these memories and is fed with realtime data, then predictive analytics can use that to deal with novel situations and manage complexity.

As the century progresses, the human brain will retain overall control, we hope, but it is intelligent systems that will give us the leverage to manage complexity.