"Apollo in his Chariot Transforms Night into Day" by Jean-Baptiste Huet (c. 1800). Courtesy of Smithsonian Open Access.
New York City, NY
Topical Meeting

All day

This event is private.

Society is experiencing rapid change within a number of coupled systems. Shocks from COVID, climate change, and new technologies are leading to regime shifts in our financial, supply, energy, belief, political, institutional, and international systems. Some have argued that this constellation of changes has created a moment reminiscent of the 1970s. The interdependencies among these systems have frustrated reductionist methods and disciplinary projects that seek to understand and predict patterns of change by examining individual systems in isolation.

For strategists and decision-makers, periods of increased change are among the most exciting, and offer outsized opportunities. Complexity-based views of social systems highlight the processes and mechanisms that underlie change. Trends, phase transitions, and cycles are among those categories of change most relevant to our current situation.

  • Trends are the most intuitive type of system-level change. They show consistent directionality over time and can often be forecast with some degree of near-term accuracy.
  • Phase transitions are fast and radical changes at the global or system level, and often associated with very small changes at the local level. In their most extreme form, phase transitions are associated with emergent regularities that are not predictable from an understanding of a system's parts.
  • Cycles describe regular fluctuations in macroscopic observables that can arise from both endogenous processes and exogenous drivers.  Like trends, they are more easily modeled and predicted.


This event, SFI’s first in-person Risk Meeting since the start of the pandemic, will survey our understanding of these three processes of change in a number of complex coupled systems. Particular emphasis will be placed on those factors and processes - natural and engineered - that dampen, disrupt, or accelerate trends, phase transitions, and cycles.


Niall FergusonNiall FergusonAuthor, Founder of Greenmantle, and Millbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
Geoffrey WestGeoffrey WestPast President, Shannan Distinguished Professor, and Science Steering Committee Member at the Santa Fe Institute

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