Why a Complexity Mindset is Non-Negotiable

Our obsession with complexity as a route to making sense of AI.

Three eras of complexity

Key Points:

  • Our interconnected world is increasingly complex, with digital networks enabling unfathomable scales of human interaction.
  • Complex systems exhibit common dynamics like emergence and unpredictability that defy reductionist thinking. A complexity lens is vital for understanding AI's impacts.
  • The interplay between humans and AI will form a complex adaptive system with counterintuitive effects arising from their interaction.
  • Generative AI represents a phase change, rapidly increasing the unpredictability and agency in socio-technical systems.
  • Radical uncertainty from complexity forces us to embrace new mental models and worldviews. The future cannot be extrapolated from the past.
  • In complex systems, the role of entrepreneurs is to intuit interventions that nudge systems towards desired emerging states.
  • Applying a complexity lens clarifies unknowns around AI's trajectories and impacts. But also prompts reflection on how collective human intelligence may co-evolve with machines.

If the world seems like it’s getting more complex you’re not imagining it. Humans make the world complex. The internet has been the primary driver of complexity in recent years. As we networked ourselves we increased the complexity of human interaction. Digital networks connect humanity via our data and interactions in ways which defy our evolved intuitions—unfathomable and inscrutable in scale, speed, and scope.

Understanding digital complexity requires historical perspective. Initially, the internet's openness revolutionized information access, promising liberation from traditional knowledge gatekeepers. However, this freedom also led to information overload. A complexity mindset might have predicted the broader implications of this openness, especially as we moved to the internet's next phase: networks. Here, the focus shifted to connections, hubs, and the influence they wield. Initially, we didn't foresee how network dynamics would empower influencers and how algorithms would amplify the biggest, most outrageous, the most attention seeking nodes. Now, as generative AI emerges, a complexity mindset reveals its potential to enhance systemic agency. Just as openness defined the internet's early days and networks characterized the social era, adaptation will likely be pivotal in the generative era.

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