Inside the Black Box
We as humans believe that everything around us has a cause and a tractable effect. This illusion makes us feel in control of ourselves and our environment. In reality, most systems around us –and within us– are like mysterious black boxes. We cannot look inside them, and we only know what goes in and out. For example, think of a patient as a black box, where a treatment is the input and the health is the output. How much do we trust our intuition about how black boxes respond? When treating real-world problems like a bacterial infection, we must learn how to deal with the box’s behaviour. Otherwise, ill-advised solutions such as self-medication may backfire.
With the aid of mathematics and computers, scientists in many fields can simulate how a black box (i.e. a complex system) transforms any input into an output. This allows us to build predictive models of how the real system would respond.
In ‘Inside the black box’, we simulate a bacterial infection controlled by a hidden circuitry of interacting components. We challenge the audience to control the growing bacterial infection (red light) by interactively administering treatment (green light). In the process, we will collect time-series data about the behaviour of complex systems and test whether human intuition can outsmart intricate black boxes. If played by enough people as a game, data from high scoring simulations could reveal optimal strategies for diagnosis and treatment of real patients.