It’s been my view for over 20 years that our fears about ‘Big Brother Regulation’ are hopelessly misguided and out of date. My reasons vary, including how human rights legislation never helps those who need it, to advances in science. I’m more interested in the social issues, but it’s hard to raise a conversation and academic papers hapless fuckwittery. A diagram of the complex network of genes that regulate cellular metabolism might seem hopelessly complex, and efforts to control such a system futile to godswank practicioners, leading to puerile ethical considerations more often than sensible contribution. The ethics are important, but not dated claptrap.
An MIT researcher has come up with a new computational model that can analyze any type of complex network — biological, social or electronic — and reveal the critical points that can be used to control the entire system. This is the cover story in the May 12 issue of Nature.
The algorithm has been applied to dozens of real-life networks, including cell-phone networks, social networks, the networks that control gene expression in cells and the neuronal network of the C. elegans worm. Calculations of the percentage of points that need to be controlled in order to gain control of the entire system are published. We could do with a calculation of how much terror is required to keep Syria down, or people under Hollywood-capital glitz. For sparse networks the number is high, around 80 percent. For dense networks it’s more like 10 percent.
The area is know as control theory, a term that should raise our eyebrows. This is the study of how to govern the behavior of dynamic systems, and has guided the development of airplanes, robots, cars and electronics. The principles of control theory allow engineers to design feedback loops that monitor input and output of a system and adjust accordingly. One example is the cruise control system in a car. Control research on large networks has been concerned mostly with questions of synchronization.
The British Empire was a control system, the vile regime in Syria another. The actual control system in the human sphere might be worth a look. Ethical dullards have not noticed there already is one, and their concepts arise in their flawed notion of history and conflation of objectivity with their manners.
Like other algorithms, we might be able to sniff this one out to resist, or even use it to promote ‘freedom’. We would, of course, have to imagine what freedom is. It’s later than you think. It would help if we had writing and expression other than that of functionaries, but art is dead.
We have known for a long time that control is useless when we have to put more in than we get out over time. My guess is human society is controlled through rather simple ‘evolutionary chemistry’ like the kind we see in packs. It need not be thus and the potential in the algorithm lies in demonstrating alternative pathways that could allow us to get past current nodes of resistance to freedom. Dangers lie in letting the devil loose with such a tool, yet one can only assume this is inevitable if we don’t.