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Chris Meyer on the New Sciences, New IT

Futurist says IT is in for bumpy ride on the way to the 'adaptive enterprise.'

By Gary Anthes
February 9, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - From 1995 through 2002, Christopher Meyer was director of the Center for Business Innovation, a think tank within Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. While there, he founded Bios Group Inc., a Santa Fe, N.M.-based venture that invests in business applications of complexity theory.
In 2002, he founded Nerve in Lexington, Mass., where he's now applying adaptive systems theory to understand how businesses can evolve autonomously in response to economic volatility. He's also researching the coming "molecular economy," to be driven by the rapidly developing fields of nanotechnology, biotechnology and materials science.
With Stan Davis, he has co-authored three books, most recently It's Alive (Crown Business, 2003). Computerworld's Gary H. Anthes recently asked Meyer about some of the concepts in the book, which looks 10 years into the future.

What does the maturing of IT plus the rise of the so-called adaptive enterprise imply for IT people? Aim as high in the value chain as you can. If IT is what you love, look at the world of autonomous agents, of pattern recognition, of globally distributed decision systems, where the next killer apps can come from. The economic value of the day-to-day IT jobs is going to decline and perhaps go overseas.

You cite companies such as John Deere, IBM and General Electric as using genetic algorithms (GA), in which rules in software evolve spontaneously, breeding better and better solutions. How important is that concept? It's the leading end of a wedge. GAs are one of a number of techniques under the category of nondeterministic programming, where the objective is not to create code that never has a bug and gives you the same answer every time, but to solve problems that, in some cases, may be impossible for us to understand because they are nonlinear and nondeterministic.
In some cases, if you run it twice, you won't get the same answer, but you might get equally good answers. The application of GAs is a pretty scarce skill.

What about agent-based simulations, another nondeterministic computing technique that your book says is used by Southwest Airlines, the U.S. Marines, Walt Disney and a few other organizations? It's so far used by a handful of people in very customized ways. It will have a profound impact on the social sciences. It's the right way to model systems of people, of consumer behavior, for example. The technique is pioneering today, but it's good enough that it's worth investigating, because it's a small expenditure for something that may yield new insights.

Christopher Meyer of Nerve
Christopher Meyer of Nerve
Will we see these techniques appear in commercial supply chain packages?


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