Some Buzz-words and their meaning. Antifragile Black Swan Cont’d (2nd part).

Some Buzz-words and their meaning. Antifragile Black Swan Cont’d (2nd part).

Dec 12th, 2013

Some Buzz-words and their meaning. Antifragile Black Swan

A new word: Antifragile.

It seems like Mr. Taleb has coined a new word: “antifragile.”

“Fragile” is the opposite of “robust”. Taleb adds the antifragile word to describe a system that thrives—its performance actually improves— under stress. Taleb’s new book mostly considers the notions of fragility and antifragility in biological, medical, economic, and political systems. Under that definition it is difficult to imagine an engineering systems that would be antifragile?
Engineers have done a superb job in designing robust systems that despite complex hazards and climate change have better and longer life spans as recently demonstrated in ( Factual and Foreseeable Reliability of Tailings Dams and Nuclear Reactors -a Societal Acceptability Perspective). We do not think however this is the same as the idea of designing a system that will actually work better when experiencing unexpected or random conditions. Antifragile concepts systems do not seem to apply to modern engineering systems, unless, for example we find a way to make dams self adjusting to hazards (and that would be sci-fi by today’s standards). Even terra-forming is not an application of antifragile system design.
Even adaptive systems (if we can think of any) are more robust than others, but not truly antifragile.
Thus it seems that the “antifragile concept” is not really applicable to engineering as we know it today because all we can do is making systems more robust, reliable, thus avoid fragility, but we do not know how to make any system thrive under stress, so we do not know how to build antifragile systems.

A term that became a buzz-word: Black Swan

As we are speaking about Mr. Taleb, let’s expand to the “Black Swan” phenomenon.
We have become more and more allergic to the buzz-word “black swan”. The definition of the term itself if in our mind quite iffy. It has caught the imagination of many, but in our mind it brings forward a slanted image, on which many have jumped, as it allows “iffy” constructs.
Let’s explain the point: Black swans are defined in the original Taleb’s book and currently on the web, as “an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically ones with extreme consequences”. For example we have read about: “geopolitical black swan events, such as the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake, have further complicated the market dynamics”.

Now, something that has occurred 17 times in the last 2 centuries (I am quoting from our blog on the economic meltdown of 2008) like the 2008 economic meltdown is far from being a black swan, do not you think? We Humans have very short, selective, memory, so we all thought that 2008 was one unpredictable and unforeseen event despite such a high recurrence of similar events. That’s WRONG!

Fukushima earthquake: reportedly the sea defences were designed for the “maximum event”….but they trusted only one line of defence (hence the project was not robust, reliable, but fragile) living the electrical commands ready to flood in the underground of the plant (yet, as engineers we know that trusting one line of defence, the properties of one material, device, etc. is not good sense.). Reportedly the quake was the 1/100,000 event….now most industries (chemical etc.) consider 1/1,000,000 the limit of credibility….so anything that occurs above that is not a Black Swan, especially if you claim you designed for it. Considering Fukushima a Black Swan is dead WRONG!”

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Category: Crisis management, Hazard, Mitigations, Probabilities, Risk management

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