Bak’s Sand Pile

I want to give a plug to Ted Lewis’ new book Bak’s Sand Pile.

Did the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, the massive power blackout of 2003, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Gulf oil spill of 2010 ‘just happen’-or were these shattering events foreseeable? Do such calamities in fact follow a predictable pattern? Can we plan for the unforeseen by thinking about the unthinkable? Ted Lewis explains the pattern of catastrophes and their underlying cause. In a provocative tour of a volatile world, he guides the reader through mega-fires, fragile power grids, mismanaged telecommunication systems, global terrorist movements, migrating viruses, volatile markets and Internet storms. Modern societies want to avert catastrophes, but the drive to make things faster, cheaper, and more efficient leads to self-organized criticality-the condition of systems on the verge of disaster. This is a double-edged sword. Everything from biological evolution to political revolution is driven by some collapse, calamity or crisis. To avoid annihilation but allow for progress, we must change the ways in which we understand the patterns and manage systems. Bak’s Sand Pile explains how.

Ted is the author of the very excellent Network Science: Theory and Applications and is contributing a paper to Marge and my themed issue of Cognitive Systems Research on stigmergy which is about to be delivered to the publisher. Ted is Professor of Computer Science and Executive Director of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. If you want to know more about the late Per Bak, here is his obituary.