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Adding noise and uncertainty can lead to complex networks functioning better. This unexpected effect was discovered by Peter Sloot, professor of Computational Science at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), and fellow scientists from the Warsaw University of Technology. The findings were published in the leading online scientific journal 'Scientific Reports' (hosted on 'nature.com') on 6 February 2013.

Peter Sloot UvA in the spotlight

The world is full of networks, from molecular protein networks to social networks and man-made computer networks. Why does nature, but also mankind, appear to organise itself within networks? Sloot heads research into the origins and evolution of complex networks. He focuses on the question of why complex networks are so surprisingly common in nature and appear to be so stable. Sloot and his Polish colleagues came up with the idea of using computer simulation to investigate how complex networks process information, as mathematical models cannot not be used. 

Faster and better processing

Sloot shed light on their discovery: ‘We placed information in a network via computer simulation and subsequently calculated how well the information was transmitted within the network. When we accidentally disrupted packets of information that were on their way within the network, it appeared that in some cases - depending on the structure of the network - the information was actually processed faster and better. This led to so-called stochastic resonance occurring.’

 

This discovery suggests that the information processing in such networks is, by nature, quite insensitive to noise. As complex networks play an essential role in nature, Sloot’s findings may also be important for a better understanding of evolution in the broad sense. 

Publication details

Agnieszka Czaplicka, Janusz A. Holyst & Peter M. A. Sloot: ‘Noise enhances information transfer in hierarchical networks’, Scientific Reports, 6 February 2013.