03 Nov 2009

I have been making the optimisation of systems, based on local information, one of my specialities. Such systems are optimised in a decentralised manner (which says that control happens on local levels and decisions about that are made also locally, according to local information). As such they are resilient against the shortcomings and the failure of a central planning node. That's good for users of the system. It also sounds nice. But is it really nice, in daily perception? Let's look at two examples:

On dutch motorways, the control system sometimes imposes tempolimits (say, 70 km/h or 50 km/h) on parts of the roads in order to prevent traffic jams further down the road. So the system knows about congestion problems in the vicinity of you, and might slow you down so you do not make a traffic jam out of it.

Recently some scientists modelled the problematic public transit system in Mexico city. Though buses run according to a plan, they sometimes stay in the stations longer (e.g. when a lot of people have to get in) and so they built up irregularities over a day, which ends up in a lot of buses being in one place and none in most others (this problem even has a name: "platooning"). They concluded that buses should just leave after a short time and not let all attending passengers board. Those passengers left out should take the next bus and overall, in the long run, everyone is better off because the whole system will run smoothly.

All this is true, but from the local viewpoint of the user of such a system, it feels wrong. I cursed when I rode on the dutch motorways and had to slow down for no reason that I could immediately apprehend. And it will definitely suck when a bus driver just leaves with you still standing right in front of the bus stop. We would hate those bus drivers.

I can tell from my own experience in understanding such systems (while researching them) that it would be hard to make everyone understand the situation. On the one hand, it's based on a lot of information and that information is decentralised - it is not all in the same place as a local observer. On the other hand, our brains are also bad at processing such abstract stuff like the platooning problem.

What to do? Would humans be happier with problematic systems, simply because they would feel more in control? Or can we evolve a system thinking in our culture that appreciates such complex, decentralised solutions? Maybe it would help to put out as much information as possible about how these systems work so that everyone can look it up herself. Maybe we'll need to go the extra mile and also visualise them really well. We should have graphically appealing real-time overviews of traffic situations (already in the making), public transports, elevators, electricity grid congestion and so on - for everyone to see and to discuss.

But I also think that in the end, not every optimisation procedure can actually be accepted - it needs at least to be understandable to stand a chance.

# lastedited 16 Jan 2010
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  on22 Nov 2009 - 21:20


as you use the word „platooning“ für movement of buses, I answer with a similar word:

I`ld say, You are “platoning”.

(Expl.: Platon was the one, who cooked up the idea, the dumb mass needs a clerisy or avant-garde, that controls them – opposite to his teacher socrates, who taught the idea of rising general consciousness)

You pretend not to do, but in fact you do it: You complain about the stupid people that just don`t obey your (your colleagues) terryfic programmed system.

This mindset is pretty old and produced a long period of violence, including several periods of fascism in later times.

You exemplify two problems, slow-down signs on  highways and "platooning" of buses.

The solution is easy, however. (Maybe not for You, of course)

If you really consider the moving cause of  users of your system, several answers are immediately  occuring:

  1. The plain pragmatical solution, e.g. avoiding “platooning” with buses:              Here it is easy to remind metros don`t have this problems, they empty-out  and fill-up  within seconds. Why? Quite easy: Metros have broad doors,. Change the buses, build others with broad doors, too, and you don`t have “platooning” any more. And this   without nerving the passengers. Why have buses narrow doors? Iguess, it`s the control of tickets, only,  thats needed (Metros here in Paris have ticket control at the entrance of the station). But thats simple to be solved: Invent another tickets system – e. g. radio controlled tickets.


  1. The second and most important answer(maybe for all problems between your program and users) is: Build up communication!

 With buses (e.#1) you can of course tell the passengers (by a board or announcement)  the next empty bus will arrive within some minutes. A part of the passengers will be willing to wait.

Concernng traffic (e. #2) its easily possible  to light up an explanation, too, on the board (e.g. “traffic jam ahead”), and You`ll see: many drivers will slow down de facto. (It happens to me sometimes on highways, and without explanation I don`t appreciate, why I should accept the dictated slow-down. It could be just a failure, too).

I don`t know, if both approaches have been experienced, maybe it has, but without straight success. But thats no reason, to neglect it. Communication in this by Platon determined mindset in science circles  is to be expanded or acquired, of course.

The only question is: Is it wanted? Not by you  resp. Your science, as it seems by this text. You don`t seem to care very much about the persons concerned by your program, that´s at least not visible in this text by you.

At least others in Your science are far ahead of You – they construct programs with empathy included meanwhile (empathy is the bridge needed for every communication), e.g. VICTEC (Virtual ICT with Empathic Characters).

I don`t know, if they are not “platoning”, really, but at least they make a first step away from it.

  on24 Nov 2009 - 10:35 fromNic

I wrote this as a "stupid" user, worried that I don't/won't like the first generation of those systems. As such a user, I would like to achieve an understanding of the mechanism of a system I am using, but your ideas of little communication snippets would of course also be welcome.

Anyway, the evil, all-mighty designer you see in me isn't here. In fact, you still don't have a clue what I am actually doing. Research in complex systems can (currently) only give recommendations in what states the system would behave better. It is the job of system operators and regulators to engage with their users.

So if someone says that in case of congestions at point x, the system would be much relieved if only 20% of the people change their behaviour at point y (which is grossly simplified - in reality there are many points x and many points y and many interrelations), this 20% might in reality be reached by different means (and the operators of such a system know their means best). As is normal in technological process, system design goes through iterations and the first implementations are the simplest (i.e. those variable speed limits). I proposed that the inner workings of the mechanisms should be open for discussion (which is also the system operators choice), so that people could have a say in how to alter the system.

Then, in a new iteration, the system might be more engaging. I could imagine that such a system can even save money if the users help balancing it actively, but it is way out of my league to model thousands of users in such a complex way that they react totally dynamic to yet undefined text messages the system might use. No one will take me seriously. That is why the project you are linking to employs psychologists and only models one agent and lets it interact with one child.

  on24 Nov 2009 - 13:42

Sorry, but all you write now is a confirmation of my words:

You are “platoning”.

To understand this, I recommend to read The State of Platon – you will find your attitude there at its best.

Platon , too, is convinced to do the best for any society (to save money is only one goal).

And Platon, too, doesn`t deny, that “little communication snippets would of course also be welcome”. (if you read the book, you`ll find, that its aloweed only at times, when his basic ideas don`t work).


Let us finish the discussion, your (and your colleagues) arrogancy just makes me sick.

You (the special branch, you represent) intend to impose your systems on the society without understanding anything of developments there, it might be called just ridiculous, but up to me it`s more than that, it`s dangerous, it is a risung fashism., as Platons ideas always ended in a fashism up to now.


At least there are others doing better.

You disparage the attempt of VICTEC, because they start with children.

You don`t understand, empathy is been found and learned ONLY from children,

THEIR empathy is predominently unadulterated,

THERE you`re able to understand, what communication IS or CAN BE and – later on – understand, how a society with emergent order is coming into existence.


You don`t understand the importance of empathy and communication, nor do you have any idea of emergent order.

You think, you`re “intelligent”, but all you aim for is to be one of the leaders above a tumb mass.

Thankfully the “mass” isn`t willing any more, to obey your leadership – at least not those who are already building up societies with emergent order (e.g. industrial countries).

Yes, we (the society of i.c.) are willing to educate people like you and  pay them for designing a programm, that is helping us to organize social processes like traffic or distribution of energy.


But sincerely not designed by arrogant “Platonists”!

(Beside: these programms will flop anyway, I prognosticate. Like every fashism they are producing internal disaccords like egoism.)

  on24 Nov 2009 - 15:57 fromNic


+ not reading the opponents comments careful, rather interprete them in the way you want.

  on25 Nov 2009 - 12:54 fromhemlock Rockew


like many (dumb) people you aren`t able to differ between mechanisms leading to fashism (long-term! 2500 years!) and "fascism" as an accusation.

sorry, I did anticipate intelligence, so please: forget (or better for you: delete) it.

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