Vittorio Loreto

The dynamics of correlated novelties

Sapienza University of Rome, Physics Dept., & Institute for Scientific Interchange (ISI) Torino, Italy

One new thing often leads to another. Such correlated novelties are a familiar part of daily life. They are also thought to be fundamental to the evolution of biological systems, human society, and technology. By opening new possibilities, one novelty can pave the way for others in a process that Kauffman has called ``expanding the adjacent possible''. The dynamics of correlated novelties, however, have yet to be quantified empirically or modeled mathematically. Nowadays, thanks to the availability of extensive longitudinal records of human activity online, it has become possible to test whether everyday novelties crop up by chance alone, or whether one truly does pave the way for another. Here I'll propose a simple mathematical model that mimics the process of exploring a physical, biological or conceptual space that enlarges whenever a novelty occurs. The model predicts statistical laws for the rate at which novelties happen (analogous to Heaps' law) and for the probability distribution on the space explored (analogous to Zipf's law), as well as signatures of the hypothesized process by which one novelty sets the stage for another.  These predictions have been tested on four data sets of human activity: the edit events of Wikipedia pages, the emergence of tags in annotation systems, the sequence of words in texts, and listening to new songs in online music catalogues. By quantifying the dynamics of correlated novelties, these results provide a starting point for a deeper understanding of the ever-expanding adjacent possible and its role in biological, linguistic, cultural, and technological evolution.
Vittorio Loreto, PhD, is Professor of Physics at Sapienza University in Rome and research leader at ISI Foundation in Turin where he heads the Information Dynamics group. His scientific activity is mainly focused on the statistical physics of complex systems. In the last few years he has been active in the fields of granular media, complexity and information theory, network theory, social dynamics. Since a few years he is actively working in the study of techno-social systems and he is presently coordinating the EU project EveryAware that integrates environmental monitoring, awareness enhancement and behavioural change by creating a new technological platform combining sensing technologies, networking applications and data-processing tools. Vittorio Loreto published over 120 papers on international journals, which received a total of roughly 3000 citations with an H-index of 27, and chaired several workshops and conferences. He was the vice-chairman of STATPHYS 23, the 23rd International Conference on Statistical Physics of the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), held in Genova, Italy, from July 9 to 13, 2007.