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The Inner Hierarchy

In Nature we can see, if we pay attention, endless examples of hierarchies, from the ones of rivers affluents to tree branches and, of course to human societies.
In math there is a way to measure the complexity of a hierarchy using the Horton-Strahler order, a metrics that takes into account the number of branches of branches and measure aggregation at different levels.
Anthropologists have long detected a tendency in human societies to aggregate in clusters (families, clans, ….) and independently whether we are looking at New York or some isolated tribe in the Amazon basins the structures look very much alike.
Now a research conducted by Benedikt Fuchs at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, on aggregation appearing in massive on line games shows striking similarities with the aggregation we found in cities or rural communities.
Researchers have looked at the on line game Pardus, gathering some 400,000 players and observed how they tend to aggregate in the cyberspace over a period of three years. They have discovered, based on the Horton-Strahler metrics, a seven layer hierarchy, from single individuals to friends, to acquaintances, to Alliances to dynamic association of groups (two order hierarchy) up to the overall gamers. This can be matched with a living human society where we have the individual, his family, his relatives, his friends, the friends of friends (weaker relations), the neighbourhood, the higher order community (nationality, belief,…) and the humankind.
This seems to indicate that it is not the context forcing aggregation to shape in certain structures but rather some circuitry cabled in our human brains that leads to these aggregation and hierarchies.
So what? Well it is always interesting to discover reasons why, and quite often once we have understood them we can derive practical guidelines on bettering our every day life.
Think about smart cities: they are containers of people, business, processes and more. But what does smart means? A more efficient environment or an environment where people are happier to live in?
Understanding the psychology of aggregation can be an important step in making sure that the two interpretation of “smartness” overlap… Just another example of the growing need for an holistic approach leveraging on several knowledge areas.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.