Monday, March 1, 2010

Network Science, Operations Research, and the Internet

John Markoff writes in The New York Times about the changing shape of the Internet. In the article, he notes the work of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (formerly from Indiana U. and now at Northeastern University) on scale-free networks, versus the work of John Doyle of CalTech and David Alderson of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey.

According to the work of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, the more the Internet changes, the more it stays the same, in terms of its overall shape, strengths and vulnerabilities.

Alderson is identified as an operations researcher in The Times article, which was published today. According to Alderson, The scale-free theorists, are just not describing the real Internet. What they’re measuring is not the physical network, its some virtual abstraction that’s on top of it, he said. What does the virtual connectivity tell you about the underlying physical vulnerability? My argument would be that it doesn’t tell you anything.

Alderson wrote an article in the OR Forum in 2008 on Catching the Network Science "Bug." Mike Trick of Carnegie Mellon University, who edits the OR Forum, then invited several network researchers (including me) to comment on the article.

I had the pleasure of hosting Alderson, along with such operations researchers as Panos M. Pardalos of the University of Florida, economists and computer scientists (Joan Feigenbaum of Yale), as well as applied mathematicians, including Mark Newman, and engineers, such as David Levinson of the University of Minnesota who works on transportation networks and Asu Ozdaglar of MIT, when I organized an Exploratory Seminar on Dynamic Networks, with David Parkes, a computer scientist at Harvard University. You may find the presentations from this exploratory seminar, which was funded by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, on this website.

We hosted Barabasi at the Isenberg School of Management in our Spring 2006 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science. He is a very dynamic and entertaining speaker.

It's terrific to have more discussions and studies about the evolution of the Internet, a network of networks, or what I would call an example of a supernetwork. As for its fragility and vulnerability, some recent methodological tools for such analysis can be found in our Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World book.