7 May 2019

A new era for CPS: juggling four balls


Professor Martin Törngren, ICES director is no stranger to complexity, least of all when it comes to Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). Through his work in California, New Jersey and Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Martin has developed a clear understanding of the current state of affairs, implications and directions in a new era of society-scale CPS. At the ARTEMIS Technology Conference 2019, he shared his insights into the risks and benefits – and his unexpected juggling skills.

10,000 years in the making

“My investigations into cyber-physical systems really took off last year when I had the opportunity to do a sabbatical in the US,” Martin begins. “I was working with the systems engineers of the Stevens Institute of Technology on how to deal with the unprecedented complexity in CPS, our environment, our organisations and our tools. We can look at that from a quantitative point of view – number of lines of code, number of dependencies, etc. – but we can also look at it from the point of view of the people and organisations that have to deal with that complexity as a subjective concept. As humans, as big teams, we have certain capabilities and limitations.”

Part of this relates to how we deal with change. After all, Martin notes, our brains were shaped tens of thousands of years ago on the savannah and the stress we experience in new situations can be explained through a better understanding of this. Nonetheless, we live in a fast-changing world. Since 2000, more than 50% of companies in the Fortune 500 have disappeared after failing to ride the digitalisation wave. Not even those with almost complete market dominance are safe, as the case of Kodak has shown. Martin cites Amara’s Law: we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

“A month ago, I gave an open talk at KTH about trends in CPS, including aspects of control and automation. Some of the general public came back to me and told me that it’s Hogwarts incarnated. That was an interesting revelation for me,” continues Martin. “We have to think about how people understand these complex systems. How do we explain them? How do we gain trust?”

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