Industry 4.0 technology concept - smart factory for the fourth industrial revolution with symbol graphic showing the automation system through the use of robots and automated machines controlled via the internet network.pitinan/123rf

Complex systems - benefit or burden?

Background and central aspects of the topic

Complex systems are the backbone of modern industrial societies. They include critical infrastructures such as energy, communications, logistics, manufacturing and early warning systems. The functioning of such systems depends on the interaction of different types of elements and is therefore potentially fragile and resource-intensive. The many interactions and feedbacks make it difficult to predict the behaviour of the system, and even small perturbations can lead to far-reaching changes and, in extreme cases, collapse. Due to increasing digitisation, the degree of interconnectedness, complexity and thus the risk of failure of critical infrastructures has increased in recent years and is likely to increase further in the future.

Objectives and approach

The aim of the study is to shed light on the risks of failure and resource requirements of complex technical systems using critical infrastructures as an example. The aim is to identify system characteristics and elements that pose a particular risk as complexity increases, as well as related precautions or measures that help to minimise these risks. Furthermore, it will be analysed which warning signals can indicate the imminent overload or risk of disruption of complex systems.

In a preliminary short study, a literature and media analysis will be carried out to determine which actors discuss the risks of complex systems in public and which topics are in the foreground. This will be followed by a survey of experts. The aim of this survey is to identify systems and subsystems that have reached a level of complexity at which, in the event of malfunction or failure, a relevant risk situation for society can be assumed. On this basis, proposals for an in-depth study in the form of a TA project will be developed for a selection of sectors and systems where the risks associated with the increase in complexity are considered to be particularly high.