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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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« Service Performance and Compliance | Reflecting on a full life »
Saturday
Apr262008

Organizing System Behaviors

One Ring to rule them all , One Ring to find them , One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them – J.R.R. Tolkien

Central control, including influences on apparently distributed systems that their owners do not anticipate, are the bane of civil society in Tolkien’s classic trilogy. Today’s models for the control of another kind of power reach deep into businesses and people’s homes, and will ultimately provoke reaction that will limit their scope and range.

Today, building systems and energy user are participants in some very bad markets. Good markets have multiple participants making value decisions to trade freely. Good markets encourage the buyers to selected products based upon value delivered, however the buyer perceives value. Good markets drive innovation and performance as sellers compete to find more profitable ways to deliver the same value, or new ways to deliver more value, to those customers. Building systems and energy are not part of such a market.

Future power systems and future buildings will be interactive at every level, from the generation of power to the provision of building-side amenities. Old centralized models of control, especially a regulated focus on cost recovery instead of value delivery, provide the organizing tenets of today’s energy markets. Energy markets that share information and decision making will achieve greater acceptance and benefits through their influence on autonomous systems than central control ever will.

Buildings are becoming complex adaptive systems that involve large numbers of distributed agents and rules governing their interactions. These agents will react to the actions of other agents and to changes in the environment. The building systems will be autonomous, so control and decision-making will be decentralized and distributed. As these agents mature and develop, they will interact with the businesses in the buildings, the lives of those in the homes, and the external environment of the power grid and environment. These autonomous systems will ultimately adapt to the changes that they themselves helped to bring about through their independent decisions.

A defining characteristic of a complex adaptive system, and thereby of well functioning markets, is that they are self-organizing; self-organization is an emergent property. Emergence simply means that a larger-scale pattern emerges out of the interaction of the smaller-scale decisions and actions of the agents.

Emergent patterns arise out of the interaction of decentralized agents acting with distributed control. Distributed control is actually self control in response to individual incentives. The most effective and innovative markets exhibit emergent order, when the larger-scale pattern that emerges is one of coordination of voluntary activity. This contrasts greatly with the ineffective and anti-innovative results that derive from the imposition of a pattern in a top-down or command-and-control manner. Even in ostensibly similar markets, the two processes of achieving order can yield dramatically different results.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the decision to regulate U.S. markets in energy generation and distribution. The decision was in part technical; the means to measure use were limited and control functions were primitive. A poor understanding of markets contributed to the decision. The largest factor, however, was the technocratic populism that held sway around the world for much of the century—a now discredited theory that was at the heart of most of the last century’s wars and social unrest. Markets for electricity generation, distribution, and use are among the last remnants of these failed models for organization of complex systems.

The technology props to this bad theory are no longer valid. It is time to use new technology and new models of system organization to end the 100 year experiment that wastes energy and inhibits innovation in the name of control.

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