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Academic Minute

Dr. Neil Johnson, University of Miami – A Formula for Threats


What can we extrapolate from the cries of a baby?

Dr. Neil Johnson, professor of physics at the University of Miami, studied the patterns of children's cries and used that information to make some interesting conclusions.

Dr. Neil Johnson is a professor of physics at the University of Miami. He has published over 200 articles in a wide range of international publications and currently is the associate editor for the Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination. As a Kennedy scholar, he earned his PhD from Harvard University.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Johnson's Academic Profile

Dr. Neil Johnson - A Formula For Threats

There you are, cruising at thirty thousand feet, deciding how to divide your next six hours between the in-flight movie on international cyber-attackers, the documentary on Wall Street flash crashes, and the book you just bought claiming to explain the recent Arab Spring uprisings. Then the nightmare begins: A baby starts crying in the row behind you. And the way that its cries keep stopping and starting makes them impossible to ignore.

But our research shows there is a pattern in this crying that can tell us more about threats from cyber-terrorism, high frequency trading and global unrest, than any movie, documentary or book ever could. Using large-scale computer analysis of nearly one million such events, we have found that all these human confrontations escalate following the same mathematical formula -- A times B to the power of negative C: from the spate of cyber-attacks against the US in 2013 through to high-speed computer trade attacks in the build up to the 2008 financial meltdown, and even the protests in Poland leading to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The secret lies in the fact that the smaller entity, such as the baby, is sufficiently agile that it out-adapts its larger opponent in the same way in every confrontation. Not only does this “ABC” formula enable new predictions to be made concerning future attacks, it also builds new bridges between unconnected disciplines. Who would have thought that an argument with your child at home could shed light on global cyber-warfare?

So the next time we’re stuck near a screaming baby, lets sit back, relax and listen for the pattern in its cry attacks. We’ll likely learn more about the escalation of future global threats than any movie, documentary or book could ever tell us.

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