Complex Systems and Engineering

The failure of design and implementation of a new air traffic control system, failures of Intel processors, medical errors (IOM 2000), failures of medical drugs, even the failure of the Soviet Union, can be described as failures of large, complex systems. Systematic studies of large-scale engineering projects have revealed a remarkable proportion of failures in major high-investment projects. The precursors of such failures (multisystem integration, high-performance constraints, many functional demands, high rates of response, and large, context-specific protocols), are symptomatic of complex engineering projects. The methods for addressing and executing major engineering challenges must begin from the recognition of the role of complexity and the specific tools that can guide the design, or self-organization, of highly complex systems. Central to effective engineering are evaluation of the complexity of system functions; recognition of fundamental engineering tradeoffs of structure, function, complexity, and scale in system capabilities; and application of indirection to specification, design, and control of system development and the system itself.

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