Current research programmes

The research quest of the Institute for Advanced Study is to discover the foundational laws, processes and mechanisms underpinning complex scientific and societal challenges, and explore their translational value.

Foundations of Complex Systems

Can complex systems be controlled?

Characteristics of complex adaptive systems, such as tipping points, emergence, intractability, resilience, etcetera - are found in many of today’s most pressing scientific and societal challenges. Studying how these collective phenomena arise from individual local interactions will deepen our understanding of the underlying principles that govern the complexity of our world. Exploring the dynamics of complex systems from a fundamental perspective is crucial for further reasoning about the effect of our intervention strategies, and the controllability of the system itself. Unfortunately there is currently no theory of Complex Systems. In this programme we explore new ways to reason about this complexity using information theory and statistical mechanics as well as experimental methods such as Agent Based Models and Complex Networks.  

Topics within this research programme:

Scales of Life 

Tipping Points in Man-made vs. Natural systems

Health Systems Complexity 

The positive dimension of health is stressed in the WHO's definition: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Therefore, the whole concept of health is founded on the insight that health and illness have causes beyond biology and behavior. However, a systemic and systematic approach is still missing. In this IAS programme, we take a unique system dynamics view on health, examining all aspects from the molecular level all the way up to the healthcare system itself. One of the main research challenges is to understand the interplay between physiological, mental and societal aspects of health.

Academic disciplines involved: sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, biology, physics, medical sciences, economics, data science, computational science.

Complexity of Covert Networks: Crime and Terrorism

Are criminal and terrorist actions predictable?

Crime and terrorism heavily undermine our society, and yet there is little consensus on how to fight these issues. The dynamics in criminal and terrorist networks show many characteristics of complex adaptive systems, which leads to an interesting research question: can we assess the effect of current intervention strategies and explore potential new approaches by disentangling the complexity of the ‘system’ through computational modelling?

Academic disciplines involved: criminology, sociology, psychology, physics, law, computational science, artificial intelligence.

Complexity in Economics and Finance

In a perfectly rational world the economy is characterized by an average agent (consumer, producer, investor, etc.), who is a perfect optimizer with rational expectations about the future. But the real world is much more complex, and socio-economic systems are highly influenced by people’s differing expectations and adaptive behaviours. It is time to use the fundamental and empirically relevant insights of a complexity approach to develop more realistic financial-economic agent-based network models to assist policy makers in more effective management and prevention of socio-economic crises. One of the main questions in this IAS research programme is ‘how can complexity modelling tools that have been developed and successfully applied in the natural sciences be applied and explored in the socio-economic domain?’  

Academic disciplines involved: economics, political science, sociology, psychology, mathematics, physics, computational science.

Urban Complexity

The majority of the world population is living in urban areas, and virtually all countries of the world are becoming increasingly urbanized. This trend has significant implications for living conditions, the environment and development in different parts of the world. In addition to being an area where new opportunities are abundant, a city is also a source of increased crime, pollution and disease. In this IAS research programme, we will study the interplay between the social and physical structures in cities. One of the specific topics of interest is the self-organizing potential of cities. History has proven that cities can become immensely creative, innovative, and subsequently reveal themselves to be powerful economic engines. Although there is extensive literature documenting these Golden City Ages, the exact causes for this rapid and erratic rise remains largely unclear. A better understanding of these dynamics could potentially lead to governance structures that are more responsive, and use the self-organizing potential of cities to the max.

Academic disciplines involved: history, geography, economics, sociology, anthropology, political sciences, ethnography, computational science, urban studies.

Published by  UvA Institute for Advanced Study

9 June 2017