Our societies and economies are becoming increasingly reliant on digital ecosystems constituted of large, complex, dynamic, and highly distributed systems. Digital innovations including Platforms, Big Data, the Internet of Things, Smart Cities, Cloud Computing, and Artificial Intelligence, involve a myriad of interacting systems owned and operated by different companies which become tightly coupled through their interfaces. It is expected that the complexity and scale of systems’ interdependence will increase by orders of magnitude in the next few years. This raises important technical and managerial challenges, and societal implications which are still not well understood.
Firstly, we need to develop a better understanding of the potential sources of vulnerability (threats to efficiency, reliability, and security) of these complex ecosystems of systems. Their smooth functioning is arguably not only dependent upon the correctness of programs but also on the correct and robust interaction between systems. We contend that interfaces supporting such interactions are therefore the critical mechanism for ensuring that systems and the complex ecosystems they conform behave as intended. We aim to study how the interfaces between the components constituting these ecosystems work, and to verify them against their intended use. We will use verification/modelling techniques that have been effective in ensuring reliability of low-level features of programs, protocols, and policies, but which have not yet been applied to reasoning about such large-scale systems and their interfaces. In so doing, we will drive the use of verification techniques and improve the reliability of large systems.
In addition, we need to consider the social context in which such ecosystems are embedded to better understand how these develop in practice and with what consequences. Drawing on management and social sciences theories we will study how the organisations involved in such innovations define digital interfaces, and the challenges they face. We will also explore the organisational or management commitments embedded within digital interfaces, how coordination and control is achieved through the management of digital interfaces, and the role that digital interfaces play in the emergence of new organisational forms. We will also explore the involvement, dynamics and consequences of digital interfaces in boundary making.
This project draws on a range of disciplines, including logic, program verification, security, discrete mathematical modelling, economics, management science and social science. While interfaces at different degrees of abstraction and criticality can be studied independently and from different perspectives, it is unlikely that any one level of abstraction or perspective will offer all of the answers. Our goal is to integrate various approaches, so that they can inform each other. For instance, our understanding of the challenges faced by organisations in developing or managing digital interfaces can inform and be informed by the mathematical modelling of systems.
We have a great set of industrial partners: Amazon AWS, BT, Facebook, GridPP, HP Labs, and Methods Group.
EPSRC’s page for the project, including a summary, partners, duration, and value: http://gow.epsrc.ac.uk/NGBOViewGrant.aspx?GrantRef=EP/R006865/1.