Socio-technical systems, where technological and human elements interact in a goal-oriented manner, provide important, functional support to our societies. We draw specific attention to the concept of timeliness that has been ubiquitously and integrally adopted as a quality standard in the modus operandi of socio-technical systems, but remains an underappreciated aspect. We point out that a variety of incentives, often reinforced by competitive pressures, prompt system operators to myopically optimize for cost- and time-efficiencies, running the risk of inadvertently pushing the systems towards the proverbial ‘edge of a cliff’. Invoking a stylized model for operational delays, we argue that this cliff edge is a true critical point — identified as temporal criticality — implying that system efficiency and robustness to perturbation are in tension with each other. Specifically for firm-to-firm production networks, we suggest that the proximity to temporal criticality is a possible route for solving the fundamental “excess volatility puzzle” in economics. Further, in generality for optimizing socio-technical systems, we propose that system operators incorporate a measure of resilience in their welfare functions.
Moran, J., Pijpers, F.P., Weitzel, U., Bouchaud, J-P. & Panja, D. (2023). 'Temporal criticality in socio-technical systems'. INET Oxford Working Paper No. 2023-13.