Project Description



Vienna, the capital of Austria, lies in the country’s east on the Danube River. Its artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. The city is also known for its Imperial palaces, including Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer residence. In the Museums Quartier district, historic and contemporary buildings display works by Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and other artists.

The X-Center, Vienna (XCV) is a private research center focusing on development of concepts and methodological for the understanding of extreme events, especially those generated by human actions and decisions. These include events such as financial system collapses, political revolutions, terrorist attacks, and healthcare breakdowns. Given the intrinsic random factor entering into the realization of human events, the work of the XCV aims at the creation of means for anticipating such events, rather predicting them. So in this sense the goals are rather different than in the natural sciences, where prediction of earthquakes, hurricanes, asteroid impacts and the like are the primary focus.

The overwhelming  majority of the time, the problem of forecasting events, human or otherwise, is easy: The current trend whatever it may be will continue. This is why trend-following is so popular. It’s almost always correct–except when it isn’t. When it isn’t is when the system reaches a turning point, a so-called critical point. That change in trend is almost always created by an extreme event of one sort or another. While it’s not possible to pinpoint exactly where a trend will end, identification of when the system is entering the region near a critical point is possible. This is the aim of the work of the XCV, to develop an understanding and workable procedures for identification of the when and where a system is entering into the “danger zone” near a critical point.

The XCV was formed in Vienna, Austria in early 2012 as the outgrowth of an earlier, multi-year project on Extreme Events in Human Society carried on at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria. (IIASA).

Specific research themes currently under investigation at the XCV include:

Identification of Complexity Gaps – differences in the complexity levels of two (or more) systems in interaction give rise to stresses that can ultimately lead to X-events if left unattended. Such a complexity gap serves as an alternate way of measuring risk in situations for which no database of past examples is available for drawing upon for the situation under investigation.

The goal of this project is to understand what notions of “complexity” are appropriate for measuring these gaps in different circumstances, as well as to develop a database of specific examples by which to see how big the gap has to be before the systems enter the “yellow zone” where a crash is imminent.

Social Mood–The collective mood of a population or group, what it believes about its future, has been shown to strongly bias the types of social events that we can expect to see, ranging from trends in popular culture to the outbreak of war.

This project aims to develop operationally effective ways for measuring social mood, and to calibrate what types of events are likely to stem from various levels of positive or negative mood on different time scales.

Shocks for Organizations–All human organizations ranging from nation-states to individuals experience shocks during the course of their existence, events that are rare, surprising and with large impact on the organization (usually negative).

In this applied project, we consider the types of shocks that may impact a specific organization like a country create scenarios by which those shocks may occur investigate the impact of the shock should it take place, and most importantly, spell out various actions the organization may take today to either prevent the shock from occurring or at least minimize its impact on the organization. This latter goal includes developing strategies to make the organization more “resilient” in the face   of the spectrum of shocks that seem more worrisome to the management of the organization

Core Founding Members of the X-Center Vienna

John Casti: One of the pioneers of complexity science and systems theory, John L. Casti, Ph.D., is Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, where he heads an initiative on Extreme Events in Human Society. He worked for many years at the Santa Fe Institute and The RAND Corporation, as well as serving on the faculties of Princeton, the University of Arizona, and New York University. A former editor of the journal Complexity, Casti has published nearly 20 volumes of academic and popular science and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Southern California. He lives in Vienna, Austria.

Leena Ilmola: L. Ilmola, has been contributing to policy making and assessment of Finnish Government (Finnish Government Future Resolution Task Force, responsible for risks and resilience) and Finnish Parliament (Futures Committee) and Ministry of Employment and Economics (Innovation policy, structural change) since 2011. She is a Senior researcher International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Vienna She has worked for many years as an entrepreneur and methods innovator. CEO Fountain Park Ltd, Finland.; CEO Promotiva Ltd., Finland; Department Head Scandinavian Corporate Strategic Planning Corporation.

Thomas Brudermann: Assistant Professor, ISIS / Institute for Systems Sciences, Innovation & Sustainability Research, University of Graz (since 09/2011) CV


Selected References

i.         X-Events: The Collapse of Everything by John L. Casti  (June 2012)

ii.         Seven Shocks for Austria, Why Normal Isn’t So “Normal” Anymore  by John Casti

iii.         Mood Matters: From Rising Skirt Lengths to the Collapse of World Powers by John L. Casti  (Jun 7, 2010)

iv.         Paradigms Lost by John L. Casti  (Nov 1, 1990)

v.         Complexification: Explaining a Paradoxical World through the Science of Surprise  by John L. Casti (Mar 3, 1995)

Global X-Network Centers