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Research Fellows Directory

Robert MacKay

Professor Robert MacKay FRS

Research Fellow


University of Warwick

Research summary

I am working mainly on mathematical approaches to management of complex systems. A complex system is a collection of interdependent components. By "management" I mean control of the probability distribution exhibited by the system, thus its statistical behaviour rather than its detailed state. The distinction is that between climate and weather. Two areas I think about specifically are financial regulation and electricity distribution. In financial regulation the question is how to set up the rules within which financial institutions are required to operate in such as way as to enhance good operation of the economy. In electricity distribution the question is how to design a pricing system that matches supply and demand, in a world with more wind turbines, storage facilities and smart devices. The benefits to society of improving either of these areas are huge. Particularly relevant are situations in which the system can exhibit more than one probability distribution. Think of snowball earth and hot house earth, which may be equally valid statistical states for the same system. Or of an economy in depression with large unemployment and one that is functioning well. Then two complementary questions arise. Firstly if the system is in an undesirable statistical state, is there a way to nudge it into the more desirable one? Secondly, if the system is at risk of tipping into an undesirable state, what nudges can be made to keep it from going over the edge? I'm developing theory to put flesh on the popular concepts of nudge and tipping point.

Grants awarded

Mathematical Theory for Complex Systems

Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards

Dates: May 2012 - Apr 2017

Value: £50,000

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