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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ'S)

 

What is this site?

This is the website for the UK's EPSRC-funded research and training initiative in the science and engineering of Large-Scale Complex IT Systems (LSCITS). The Initiative officially commenced on October 1st 2007.

What does the Acronym 'LSCITS' mean?

“LSCITS” stands for Large-Scale Complex Information Technology Systems. We usually pronounce it "else-its". It's maybe not the most elegant of acronyms, but we inherited it from the prehistory of this initiative, so we’ll stick with it. The words and phrases that contribute their initial letters to the acronym are all open to various interpretations, and to avoid confusion we give here our own informal working definitions of ITS, C, and LS – in that order. 

ITS: Information Technology Systems. This is the least contentious part of the acronym; in that there is generally common intuitive agreement over what constitutes an IT System. Of course, communications technology is now so intertwined with computer systems that the familiar phrase ICT Systems would be more accurate. Also, as ICT-based automation increases to permeate so many aspects of our lives, so there are some companies that might be more happily characterized as working in or with Information Systems rather than Information Technology. We simply note here that the ITS in LSCITS is intended to be broadly interpretable, covering both ICT and IS, and move on to more problematic words.

C: Complex. It can be useful to distinguish complex from complicated. While these two words are used as virtually interchangeable adjectives in everyday English usage, we find it convenient to make a technical distinction between them. For us, a complicated system is one that is prima facie difficult for a human to understand, but where that difficulty is surmountable if only the human (or an ideal human) could be appropriately trained. So a system might be considered complicated possibly just because of the sheer number of components or interactions within it, or because of high diversity of component types, and so on. In contrast, by our definition, a complex system has nonlinear interactions within or between the components, where those nonlinearities compound across the entire system in such a way that the entire system-level behaviour is very difficult or perhaps impossible to predict, even given perfect knowledge of the components and their interactions – the entire system-level behaviour might be said colloquially to emerge from the underlying component interactions. Using these definitions of complicated and complex, the traditional engineering methodology of design by divide-and-conquer can give rise to extraordinarily complicated end-products, but usually the good designs are ones in which complexity is minimized, because low-complexity designs are easier to manage and maintain. As systems get more complicated, so the chances of complexity being a problem (and very possibly a hidden problem) also increase; complicatedness and complexity in IT systems are very often highly correlated, and it is frequently a question of the complexity being contained rather than eliminated. For an extended discussion of complexity and emergence in ICT systems, see (Bullock & Cliff, 2004).

LS: Large-Scale. Our notion of scale is not dependent on physical size or spatial dispersion. Rather, we consider largeness-of-scale to be a question of the number of components and/or interactions involved in contributing to the system-level behaviours. Thus, while a multinational networked IT system would clearly fall within our definition of LSCITS, so also could a large SMP or clustered HPC facility, or a big multicore chip, or (in time) a quantum system.

How does the World Wide Web and 'Web Science' fit into this?

Our view is that the WWW is one example of an LSCITS. The Web is certainly very big and it is certainly very important. We're very interested in the Web. But there are lots of other large-scale complex IT systems that people would not naturally think of as aspects of "The Web", and we're also very interested in those wider LSCITS instances and issues too. The LSCITS Initiative is centered on taking an integrative approach (see the LSCITS Stack) that combines various computer science sub-disciplines, foundational mathematics, relevant aspects of social sciences such as ethnography, organizational psychology, economics, and management theory, plus "complexity science" findings concerning evolution and emergence (as seen in biology and economics) that are applicable to LSCITS. As far as we understand evangelic Web Science position-papers like this, "Web Science" is a label that acts a shorthand for all of these things. In that sense then, the LSCITS Inititiative might be classified as Web Science, but our motivations in LSCITS always came from systems other than the Web too.

Who is involved in the LSCITS initiative?

Click here for a list of the university-based people involved, here for links to our industrial partners and sponsors, and here for details of our steering boards.

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