Workshop on

Collectives and the Design
of Complex Systems

Program Chairs:

Kagan Tumer
David Wolpert
Tina Panontin

Local Organizer:
Peggy Leising

NASA Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, CA

August 6-9, 2002

Description Purpose of Workshop Contact Information

Important Dates List of Presenters Presentations

Location Abstracts Schedule


With the advent of extremely cheap computing we are moving to a world filled with distributed systems of computationally sophisticated components. Very often there are performance criteria by which each of these components can rank its own behavior, as well criteria by which we rank the dynamic behavior of the complex system as a whole. Examples of such overall performance critiera are total throughput in a data network, total scientific information gathered by a constellation of deployable instruments, and, in the natural world, GDP growth in a human economy, or percentage of available free energy exploited by an ecosystem.

No current scientific discipline provides a thorough understanding of the relation between the structure of such "collectives" and how well they meet their overall performance criteria. This workshop aims to be the first step at overcoming this problem by laying the foundation of the study of collectives.

This workshop will consider the two fundamental issues in the study of collectives and complex systems:

  1. The forward problem of how the localized attributes of a collective induce emergent behavior at the global scale and thereby determine performance. This problem arises in the study of complex systems made up of biological entities and of what determines how well they perform. Examples of such complex systems are ecosystems, or human economies, processes (e.g., the space shuttle maintenance and refurbishment process) and organizations. The forward problem also arises in the context of non-biological complex systems, like the space station. Here, for example, it provides us a means to model and detect interactions among components of the system that may lead to breakdowns (e.g., determining whether a component considered ``safe'' can cause a critical malfunction when it is put in interaction with another ``safe'' component).

  2. The inverse problem arises when we wish to move beyond the forward problem and design the system to (induce behavior which) optimizes the pre-specified performance criteria. Examples are controlling constellations of deployables to maximize scientific data collection, engineering space systems to maximize astronaut safety, or more generally any combination of factors that determine mission success.

Purpose of the workshop and connection to other fields

The study of collectives is related to previous work in the following fields (among others):

  • Distributed adaptive control
  • Control of chaos
  • Nonlinear control
  • Nonlinear time series analysis
  • Computational economics
  • Mechanism design
  • (Evolutionary) Game theory
  • Statistical mechanics
  • Population biology
  • Multiagent systems

Accordingly, we envision experts from all of these fields contributing. The purpose of the workshop is, first, to identify the precise strengths and weaknesses these current research areas can bring to the study of collectives. The ultimate goal though is to go beyond those current research areas, and begin the formulation of a rigorous and formal synthesis, the science of collectives.

Organizers' contact information

Kagan Tumer
NASA Ames Research Center
Mail Stop 269-4
Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000

David Wolpert
NASA Ames Research Center
Mail Stop 269-2
Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000

Tina Panontin
NASA Ames Research Center
Mail Stop 213-10
Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000

Peggy Leising
Mail Stop T35B-1
Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000

This workshop is partially supported by:

  • ECS program


    The workshop will be held at the main auditorium of the Moffett Training and Conference Center (building 3) at NASA Ames Research Center. NASA Ames Research Center is located in Moffett Field, an easy drive from either San Jose or San Fransisco Airports.

  • From the San Jose airport, take 101 North (towards San Fransisco). Take the "Moffett Field" exit (this exit is after Sunnyvale exits, and with the Mountain View exits. you will see the large hangars on your right). Without traffic, the drive takes approximately 15 minutes from San Jose Airport.

  • From San Fransisco Airport, follow signs to 101 South (towards San Jose). Take the "Moffett Field" exit (this exit is after the Mountain View exits, about a mile after the exit for highway 85. Note, it is not the same as the "Moffett Blvd" exit, which is about 1/4 miles earlier and takes you to downtown Mountain View). Without traffic (an unlikely event) the drive takes approximately 30 minutes.

  • From either airport, once you have exited on Moffett Field, you will arrive at the entrance of NASA Ames Research Center. At the gate, you will need to show an ID (driver's licence/passport). Please state that you are going to "building 3" which is the Moffett Traning and Conference Center (MTCC). Once through the gate, continue straight until you hit Mc Cord Ave. (stay on the left lane, the right lane veers to the right). Building 3 (MTCC) is on your left across the street and parking lot. Go through the stop sign across McCord Avenue, and enter the parking lot on your left. Note the parking lot faces the back of the building, and you will need to go around to the main entrace, which is on Severyns Ave. The workshop will be held in the main auditorium.

    Here are more detailed directions, provided my the Moffett Training and Conference Center.

    Important dates

    We will ask all participants to send a draft synopsizing their technical contribution (i.e., a draft of a chapter in a book on collectives and the design of complex systems) electronically to (ps or pdf format).

    We will make the drafts available to the workshop participants prior to the workshop. Final contributions, based on comments from participants and discussions at the workshop will be due approximately one month after the workshop.

    If you have any questions, please contact Kagan Tumer or David Wolpert by email.