Research Fellows Directory
Dr Damon Wischik
University College London
My research is on the large-scale order that emerges in networks made up of many interacting parts that all follow simple rules. This field has a long history going back to Boltzmann who, in the mid 19th century, uncovered the laws that relate the behaviour of individual gas molecules to the large-scale characteristics such as pressure and temperature.
The difference is that I study systems where we can change the small-scale rules, depending on the large-scale outcome we want. For example, in the Internet, we can change the code that controls how fast computers send data onto the Internet, and over which paths -- so that the network as a whole will spread its traffic over all available links, much as a gas fills all available space. I am part of a group at UCL that has developed a standard for multipath transmission, which will soon be adopted by the Internet standards body (the IETF). It should lead to more reliable service on the Internet, especially for mobile devices.
Societal networks such as public transport can also be thought of in this way. Here too the large-scale property (congestion) depend on how individual components (people) behave. The challenge is that people can't be programmed like computers to choose the most efficient route or time of day; instead we need to find ways to encourage/coerce the behaviour we want. This is made possible by modern sensing technology and Internet communication, combined with carefully designed reward schemes involving social elements and lottery-type games. I am working with a group at Stanford University, headed by Prof Balaji Prabhakar, on this. He has previously completed a pilot study on commuting in Bangalore, India. We are currently running a pilot scheme for employee wellness at Accenture, and we will soon be deploying schemes for decongesting Singaporean public transport, for reducing energy demand in Japan, and for changing commuting behaviour at Stanford.