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Waves of novelties in the expansion into the adjacent possible

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posted on 19.05.2017, 11:06 authored by Bernardo MonechiBernardo Monechi, Alvaro Ruiz-Serrano, Francesca Tria, Vittorio Loreto
The emergence of novelties and their rise and fall in popularity is an ubiquitous phenomenon in human activities. The coexistence of popular evergreens with novel and sometimes ephemeral trends pervades technological, scientific and artistic production. Though this phenomenon is very intuitively captured by our common sense, a comprehensive explanation of how waves of novelties are not hampered by well established old-comers is still lacking. Here we first quantify this phenomenology by empirically looking at different systems that display innovation at very different levels: the creation of hashtags in Twitter, the evolution of online code repositories, the creation of texts and the listening of songs on online platforms. In all these systems surprisingly similar patterns emerge as the non-trivial outcome of two contrasting forces: the tendency of retracing already explored avenues (exploit) and the inclination to explore new possibilities. These findings are naturally explained in the framework of the expansion of the adjacent possible, a recently introduced theoretical framework that postulates the restructuring of the space of possibilities conditional to the occurrence of innovations. The predictions of our theoretical framework are borne out in all the phenomenologies investigated, paving the way to a better understanding and control of innovation processes.

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