Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere: Sandpile Edition

On Joshua Cooper Ramo’s Age of the Unthinkable:

Instead of tanks and planes and armed battalions, we face “adaptive microthreats and ideas,” like improvised explosive devices made of cheap cell-phone components.
Because of such thinking, Ramo writes, “no major power has been able to defeat an insurgency anywhere in the world” since World War II.
“People are trying to explain the world using models that just don’t work,” Ramo said this week from New York, where he will make the rounds of television appearances to promote the book.


  1. The model that works for me is the way that a body defends not against a tiger but against a virus. The body does not mount a massive defense system, a spear or an explosion, but identifies the virus, mounts a short term large scale microdefense (antibodies, phagocytes, and their friends), and then decreases the defense by more than one thousand fold in a few weeks. It keeps just enough defense in place to prevent the number of viral particles from increasing again to unacceptable levels.

    The body refocuses its resources on the next ‘important’ microthreat.

    This model would seem to be relevant to terrorists. The massive quick response to a real threat followed by rapid decrease in the response has been found, by biological organisms, to be critical.

    Add politics and your results may differ. 😉


  2. John,
    The devices that we are working on in the company Cognitive Architectures for Learning create and test the relevant complexities and make testable predictions. I have alluded to these devices in other comments.

    The complexity analysis comes ‘for free’ in the way that the system builds itself.

    Just for your information.

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