Research brief: Hierarchy in dynamic environments

Most organizations operate under command hierarchies: workers, who know the ground reality, report to managers, who know the big picture. In a recent paper, three researchers use an agent-based model to explore how the performance of hierarchical groups varies with changing environments.

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New work extends the thermodynamic theory of computation

In a paper published in Physical Review X on May 13, a quartet of physicists and computer scientists expand the modern theory of the thermodynamics of computation. By combining approaches from statistical physics and computer science, the researchers introduce mathematical equations that reveal the minimum and maximum predicted energy cost of computational processes that depend on randomness, which is a powerful tool in modern computers. 

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Research News Brief: random processes shape science and math

Will a certain tritium atom decay by a certain time? According to our current science, this question concerning physical phenomena should be answered by sampling from a probability distribution, a process not unlike spinning a roulette wheel or rolling dice. However, a paper in Foundations of Physics suggests that the same could be true of a question concerning mathematical phenomena, even one as prosaic as “what is 2+2?” 

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To accelerate biosphere science, reconnect three scientific cultures

Researchers who study Earth’s biosphere tend to operate from one of three scientific cultures, each with distinct ways of conducting science, and which have been operating mostly independently from one another, find the authors of a Perspective published in PNAS. Three SFI researchers identify and explain the three cultures, and suggest that reconnecting them could help accelerate biosphere science.

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Study: To make sense of history, embrace uncertainty

There are many things we don’t know about how history unfolds. The process might be impersonal, even inevitable, as some social scientists have suggested; human societies might be doomed to decline. Or, individual actions and environmental conditions might influence our communities’ trajectories. Social scientists have struggled to find a consensus on such fundamental issues. A new framework by SFI faculty and others suggests a way to unify these perspectives.

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How to track important changes in a dynamic network

Networks can represent changing systems, like the spread of an epidemic or the growth of groups in a population of people. But the structure of these networks can change, too, as links appear or vanish over time. In a new paper, a trio of SFI-affiliated researchers describe a novel way to aggregate static snapshots into smaller clusters of networks while still preserving the dynamic nature of the system.

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How a city is organized can create less-biased citizens

A new study in Nature Communications presents data and a mathematical model to explain why there is more unconscious, or implicit, racial bias in some cities than others. The study, which brings together the math of cities with the psychology of how individuals develop unconscious racial biases, suggests that a city's level of implicit bias depends on how populous, diverse, and segregated that city is.

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Research News Brief: Predicting human lives via sequences of life events

The AI that can write sentences or compose news articles can also accurately predict the unfolding of individual human lives. A new tool called life2vec can predict outcomes, including early death, by leveraging similarities between how sequences of events progress in human lives and sequences of words progress in language, according to a recent study in Nature.

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Study: Plant groupings in drylands support ecosystem resilience

Many complex systems, from microbial communities to mussel beds to drylands, display striking self-organized clusters. According to theoretical models, these groupings play an important role in how an ecosystem works and its ability to respond to environmental changes. A new paper in PNAS focused on the spatial patterns found in drylands offers important empirical evidence validating the models.

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The new science of waste

Waste is a natural by-product of productive human economies and a problem that plagues human systems. In a new paper, Mingzhen Lu and Chris Kempes explore how three types of waste production — municipal solid waste, wastewater, and greenhouse gas emissions — scale with city size. 

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Physicists identify overlooked uncertainty in real-world experiments

The rules of statistical physics address the uncertainty about the state of a system that arises when that system interacts with its environment. But they’ve long missed another kind. In a new paper published in Physical Review Research, David Wolpert and Jan Korbel argue that uncertainty in the thermodynamic parameters themselves — built into equations that govern the energetic behavior of the system — may also influence the outcome of an experiment.

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Study: How to optimize EV charging locations

As consumer interest in electric vehicles rises, the lack of charging stations is a continuing concern to potential customers. A recent paper in PNAS Nexus provides a possible road map for how to optimize the locations for new EV infrastructure.

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