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An Invisible Thread Connects the World

  • Osama Rizvi 
Motion graphic of digital world connect big data

Ever since the time when hunter-gatherer societies started settling in the Fertile Crescent, the linchpins of Globalization were being laid. There might have been phases where this process of globalization might have surged and fallen, but to think that it ever went away would be an injustice to what seems an inherent, natural and innate development that had to burgeon itself once humans started to interact with each other.

This thought has manifested itself in one of the strongest manners during the current times as a single geopolitical event has turned the whole balance of the world topsy-turvy.

Source: World Economic Forum

The effects have reverberated from politics to the military and even economics to energy. Not to mention that the daily life of hundreds of millions have to be impacted. There are multiple dimensions to what is eventuating in recent times. This multi-dimensionality has led to dissonance and confusion in the policy-making ranks of governments and organizations as the world becomes too complex. Here is an analogy: Due to the proliferation of technology, the world has become nauseatingly connected, or as Robert Kaplan puts it, ‘it has shrunken geography’. As such, not only the number of variables has increased in this system (world), but their interaction has become extremely difficult to assess and track; partly because in a complex system, the ensemble doesn’t resemble the individual items (the impact of conflict between world’s two largest grain exporters will certainly not be confined to food). Partially because our faculties have not grown to the same extent as the magnitude and number of variables, along with their bedazzling interaction. Following is the visualization of the thought mentioned above:

Illustration by the Author
Source: Taken from Science of Complex Systems by Dr. Yaneer Bar Yam

As mentioned in the book Shutdown by Adam Tooze, the six effects serve to be another way of looking at the complexity of today’s world. The author talks about the term that I believe aptly describes our era – Polycrisis. These six effects: Back-flow, Convergence, Layering, Linkage, Magnifier, and Induction, clearly explain the to and fro of information, ideas, people, and the mind-boggling influence of it on our contemporary and complex world. This reference can assist in linking the exodus of Ukrainians with other states at war like Palestinians and Kashmiris. While the Russia-Ukrainian crisis is *Magnifying* into a global catastrophe, spilling into an energy and food crisis, there is a dire need to read between the lines.

The following image has been taken from one of Adam Tooze’s Chartbook post where he presents a crisis picture.


As you reach the middle of the text, have you ever wondered how complex our world has become? For starters, consider the fact that every day about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is being produced. If you want to gauge what it looks like in writing, then take a moment and comprehend that it is a 2.5 figure followed by 18 zeros. About 17 million shipping containers are circling the globe carrying millions of products where a hive-like mind of an almost ubiquitous quality, driven by Artificial Intelligence, manages the fact that when a customer clicks “buy” that very product reaches his doorstep on the next or in some cases the same day. About 69 million messages are sent in one internet minute and (interestingly) 197 emails are exchanged.


Consequently, the policy-makers, readers, and observers, now need to be cognizant of a meta-dimensional domain of data to make informed decisions. The idea of second-order thinking is not only becoming highly relevant but also is direly needed. The ease of communication, an ever-increasing amount of data, blurring boundaries between “noise” and “signal”, the incessant flow of people, ideas crisscrossing our geographical boundaries, falling cost of computing, and many other factors have altogether made it difficult for the human beings to “connect the dots” in a meaningful way.

Source: FS Blog

In an attempt to weave a clear picture of the world, we will discuss and debate social, political, economic, and other policies, ideas, and developments in the above framework. We will try to focus especially on complex systems to assess how they interact with each other: also, how do the emergent properties of these systems surprise us with their scale and magnitude? Moreover, as the world suffers from multiple crises, it will be pertinent to learn about Antifragility, a term coined by Nassim Taleb (in a book with the same title). The role of technology and its importance in daily life isn’t new. Nonetheless, we will also explore new avenues that are being transformed by its wizardry. This holds especially when global supply chains will be shed light upon. Every week we will try to put our heads together and brainstorm these and many other topics of this ilk.

In this disruptive and dynamic world, the only way forward is to navigate it not in a linear way but rather embrace its non-linearity and learn to ride the uneven and at times even chaotic, waves triggered by, say, changing political weather, a tectonic shift in geopolitics and/or looming clouds over the economic horizon.

By Osama Rizvi for Data Science Central