Contrasting Views of Complexity and Their Implications For Network-Centric Infrastructures


There exists a widely recognized need to better understand and manage complex “systems of systems,” ranging from biology, ecology, and medicine to network-centric technologies. This is motivating the search for universal laws of highly evolved systems and driving demand for new mathematics and methods that are consistent, integrative, and predictive. However, the theoretical frameworks available today are not merely fragmented but sometimes contradictory and incompatible. We argue that complexity arises in highly evolved biological and technological systems primarily to provide mechanisms to create robustness. However, this complexity itself can be a source of new fragility, leading to “robust yet fragile” tradeoffs in system design. We focus on the role of robustness and architecture in networked infrastructures, and we highlight recent advances in the theory of distributed control driven by network technologies. This view of complexity in highly organized technological and biological systems is fundamentally different from the dominant perspective in the mainstream sciences, which downplays function, constraints, and tradeoffs, and tends to minimize the role of organization and design

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