How complexity spilled the oil


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Notice for regular readers (thanks!) I did not write or influence this headline in any way. If you follow the link you will see it is all the work of one of the most authoritative sources global research companies, Forrester, via the, ever reliable, Computerworld who will keep you up to date on IT and general “geekery”.

If the subject matter looks familiar that is precisely because IT IS! I have written about this specific incident in the blog on several occasions and from a couple of perspectives, going back to the days when it wasn’t fashionable NOT to have a daily dig at BP and poor wee Tony Hayward: a man whose, now legendary, gift for miscommunication, could have been learnt at piñata finishing school!!!

They had just placed themselves, respectively, in the positions of “Big bad Corporate” and “sacrificial lamb” for an outraged global population and US administration desperate to find someone to BLAME. WE already suspected that so much of that rhetoric was about deflection…we ALL knew, from the collapse of global banking, that, when it came to Corporate activities, regulation was a fallacy, only an effective smokescreen and that risk management perceived a mere drain on potential profit and bonus potential…therefore tax revenue!

Current societies…are characterised by their extreme complexity at a moment in history in which traditional political institutions have lost much of the power, a power which has now passed into the hands of multinational companies with their relocation strategies. In this situation, a growing deregulation can also be observed which, in turn, redounds in the appearance of new risks and uncertainties.

Ulrich Beck

The best any of us concerned citizens could hope for was that this incident would be, not so much a disastrous oil spill as an inglorious watershed.

The Gulf oil spill of April 2010 was an unprecedented disaster. The National Oil Spill Commission’s report summary shows that this could have been prevented with the use of better technology. Read more of this post

Does complexity guarantee “system failure”?


According to one journalist, whose speciality is deconstructing accidents, it does (see below). Naturally we at Ontonix would like to respond to this statement:

When complexity reaches the point of “critical complexity” system functionality is lost and failure can ensue.

System  complexity can be managed…that is what we do! More Complexity Facts from Ontonix


Nevertheless this is an interesting and worrying observation. One that, when taken in the context of Global Financial Services, begs the obvious question: Read more of this post

Kenneth Rogoff: The BP Oil Spill’s Lessons for Regulation


Project Syndicate is a “home for thought leaders”: Kenneth Rogoff is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF.

The basic problem of complexity, technology, and regulation extends to many other areas of modern life. Nanotechnology and innovation in developing artificial organisms offer a huge potential boon to mankind, promising development of new materials, medicines, and treatment techniques. Yet, with all of these exciting technologies, it is extremely difficult to strike a balance between managing “tail risk” – a very small risk of a very large disaster – and supporting innovation.

Economics teaches us that when there is huge uncertainty about catastrophic risks, it is dangerous to rely too much on the price mechanism to get incentives right. Unfortunately, economists know much less about how to adapt regulation over time to complex systems with constantly evolving risks, much less how to design regulatory resilient institutions. Until these problems are better understood, we may be doomed to a world of regulation that perpetually overshoots or undershoots its goals.

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