It’s a rather unsurprising idea: Humans do things in bursts of activity. “We do not do things uniformly,” said Albert-László Barabási, a Distinguished Professor of Physics with joint appointments in the College of Science and the College of Computer and Information Science and founding director of Northeastern’s world-leading Center for Complex Network Research.
Instead, he said, each one of our actions is correlated to those that came before. For instance, perhaps we send 16 emails in a half-hour period and then surf the Web for an hour. Or maybe we make a few calls in the afternoon and then set the phone down for the rest of the evening.
Though it may be a subconscious side-effect of evolution or simply convenience, our bursty behavior allows network scientists like Barabási to predict how we will act in the future and, by extension, how the products of our bursty work — our money, our tweets or even our ideas — will travel through society.
But these predictions depend on robust mathematical algorithms. Until recently, the network scientists’ standard tools tended to “give rise to positive correlations, even though the events were totally independent,“ said Barabási. For predominantly random systems, these models work fine. Not so with bursty systems.