When the planes hit the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001, Facebook hadn’t been invented, nor had Twitter, or What’s App, or the so-called “dark web.” Fewer than half of Americans had cell phones, and less than 9 percent of people around the world were online. Now, 15 years later, the internet—and its ubiquitous social networks—reach to every corner of the globe, changing the way terrorists communicate and plan, and also how terrorist plots can be unearthed, monitored, and stopped. How can the power of big data be harnessed to combat terrorism, and what will it take to get us there? Physicist Neil Johnson explains in this riveting and timely ’Cane Talk.
Neil Johnson's research looks at the physics of collective behavior and emergent properties in real-world systems which are "complex"—from the physical, biological, medical domains through to social and even financial domains. A complex system is one in which unexpected phenomena emerge spontaneously at the macro-level, through the micro-level interactions of many objects over time. For example, traffic jams arise from the interactions of cars—but understanding what a single car can do tells us little about the jams that emerge. The same holds true for applications in medicine, molecular biology, and neurology through to economics and sociology. He has published over 200 articles in a wide range of international publications. Prior to joining UM in 2007, he was professor of physics at Oxford University. As a Kennedy scholar, he earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University.