Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"The Science of Surprise," by Dana Mackenzie. Discover, February 2002.

The 1980s saw the birth of complexity theory, which seeks to model highlycomplex systems with lots of individual actors, like a large company's supplychain or an election. One of its striking acheivements is a model in which acollection of idealized enzymes becomes self-replicating, which may well yieldinsight into the origins of life. One of complexity theory's intellectualfounders, Stuart Kauffman, has taken its ideas out of academia. He hasestablished a company called BiosGroup dedicated to building computer models ofcomplex systems for corporate clients. Their work in helping Proctor andGamble reduce its supply-chain cycle---raw material to delivered product---from65 days to 30 days has won them much respect. But now they're aiming higher,attempting to help insurance companies come up with models that predict therisk of calamities like Hurricane Andrew or the attacks of September 11.

--- Rafe Jones