Complex Engineered Systems
Every time we buy a product in the supermarket, take a flight, recharge our phone or send an email we are forming part of what we call complex engineered systems. From supply chain networks to power grids and cities our everyday lives are embedded within and enabled by these complex networks of technology and services. This is a world in a state of rapid change, in the Industrial Age we build individual systems with the advent of information technology and globalization, a new world of integrated networked systems that cuts across specific domains is emerging, they bring a whole new paradigm to our technology infrastructure, challenge our engineering capacity, and understanding these complex systems is more important than ever. This course is an overview to the new area of research called complex engineered systems that applies models from complexity theory to analyzing the technology infrastructure that runs our high-tech global economy.
The course is broken down into four major sections: We will start by applying systems theory to understand the fundamentals of our engineered environment, using it to give us a basic model of technology before we start adding complexity to it. We will go on to talk about information systems and sociotechnical systems. Next, we will be looking at nonlinearity and self-organization within our technology landscape, discussing how no one really designs these complex engineered systems but instead they are created out of local interactions, feedback loops, and attractors that give rise to the emergence of global patterns of organization. We will go on to apply network analysis, discussing how IT and alternative technologies are working to create a new generation of highly integrated but also distributed systems, flipping our traditional centralized model on its head, as new technologies like 3D printing, solar cells, and mesh networks enable end-users to become producers. In the last section to the course we will be covering the topics of adaptation and system’s robustness as we look at the evolutionary process through which complex engineered systems are created, their vulnerabilities and capacity to adapt to a changing environment.
Throughout the course we will be following a number of major trends that are having a powerful, transformative effect on our technology infrastructure. Including the rise of sustainability, globalization, the services revolution and, of course, the information revolution, that continues to be the most pervasive and radically disruptive force as it works to fundamentally re-architect our traditional industrial age systems, breaking down barriers between silos and networking them into integrated systems as disparate technologies become increasingly converged. We will see how all of these major themes are working to take us into a new world of complexity as we go further into the 21st century and present engineers with a set of daunting technical challenges as they try to develop this next generation of integrated, smart and sustainable technology solutions.
Requirements & Audience
This course will not teach you about design or engineering, it is a course on technology analysis through the lens of complexity theory. Also, this course is not an introduction, you will be expected to be familiar with basic concepts within complexity theory, science, engineering, and technology. It is an overview to a broad subject so we will not be drilling down into technical engineering details. The course is non-mathematical but you will be exposed to the full complexity and abstract models that are required to make a proper analysis of these very complex systems of technology.