An ecological approach to structural flexibility in online communication systems

Human cognitive abilities are limited resources. Today, in the age of cheap information—cheap to produce, to manipulate, to disseminate—this cognitive bottleneck translates into hypercompetition for rewarding outcomes among actors. These incentives push actors to mutualistically interact with specific memes, seeking the virality of their messages. In turn, memes’ chances to persist and spread are subject to changes in the communication environment. In spite of all this complexity, here we show that the underlying architecture of empirical actor-meme information ecosystems evolves into recurring emergent patterns. We then propose an ecology-inspired modelling framework, bringing to light the precise mechanisms causing the observed flexible structural reorganisation. The model predicts—and the data confirm—that users’ struggle for visibility induces a re-equilibration of the network’s mesoscale towards self-similar nested arrangements. Our final microscale insights suggest that flexibility at the structural level is not mirrored at the dynamical one.

Explainable, automated urban interventions to improve pedestrian and vehicle safety

At the moment, urban mobility research and governmental initiatives are mostly focused on motor-related issues, e.g. the problems of congestion and pollution. And yet, we cannot disregard the most vulnerable elements in the urban landscape: pedestrians, exposed to higher risks than other road users. Indeed, safe, accessible, and sustainable transport systems in cities are a core target of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. Thus, there is an opportunity to apply advanced computational tools to the problem of traffic safety, in regards especially to pedestrians, who have been often overlooked in the past. This paper combines public data sources, large-scale street imagery and computer vision techniques to approach pedestrian and vehicle safety with an automated, relatively simple, and universally-applicable data-processing scheme. The steps involved in this pipeline include the adaptation and training of a Residual Convolutional Neural Network to determine a hazard index for each given urban scene, as well as an interpretability analysis based on image segmentation and class activation mapping on those same images. Combined, the outcome of this computational approach is a fine-grained map of hazard levels across a city, and an heuristic to identify interventions that might simultaneously improve pedestrian and vehicle safety. The proposed framework should be taken as a complement to the work of urban planners and public authorities.