Globally networked risks and how to respond


Today’s strongly connected, global networks have produced highly interdependent systems that we do not understand and cannot control well. These systems are vulnerable to failure at all scales, posing serious threats to society, even when external shocks are absent. As the complexity and interaction strengths in our networked world increase, man-made systems can become unstable, creating uncontrollable situations even when decision-makers are well-skilled, have all data and technology at their disposal, and do their best. To make these systems manageable, a fundamental redesign is needed. A ‘Global Systems Science’ might create the required knowledge and paradigm shift in thinking.

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Figure 1: Risks Interconnection Map 2011 illustrating systemic interdependencies in the hyper-connected world we are living in.
Figure 2: Spreading and erosion of cooperation in a prisoner’s dilemma game.
Figure 3: Illustration of probabilistic cascade effects in systems with networked risks.
Figure 4: Cascade spreading is increasingly hard to recover from as failure progresses.
Figure 5: Box 3 Figure Illustration of the principle of a ‘time bomb’.


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This work has been supported partially by the FET Flagship Pilot Project FuturICT (grant number 284709) and the ETH project “Systemic Risks—Systemic Solutions” (CHIRP II project ETH 48 12-1). I thank L. Böttcher, T. Grund, M. Kaninia, S. Rustler and C. Waloszek for producing the cascade spreading movies and figures. I also thank the FuturICT community for many inspiring discussions.

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Helbing, D. Globally networked risks and how to respond. Nature 497, 51–59 (2013).

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