Pierre-Alexandre Balland is a French economist and one of Europe’s leading experts on complex systems, the future of cities, artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies.
He is a Professor at Utrecht University and previously held positions at MIT and UCLA. He is a Visiting Professor at the Artificial and Natural Intelligence Toulouse Institute and a research fellow at the Center for Complex Systems Studies. Pierre-Alex is also a high-level policy expert that currently serves in the ESIR group to advise the European Commission on innovation policy. This is how he describes his work:
So, what is my research all about? I analyze economic development from a complex systems perspective. The economy grows when humans become more connected. New technologies and globalization allow for a deeper division of knowledge that transforms our species into a giant team joining forces to produce new ideas and products. This is a long story of trade and division of labor and this is an unbelievably efficient way to organize the economy. But there is a catch. It creates an overload of information and noise and it is increasingly harder to make decisions. This division of knowledge also creates room for hierarchy and inequality. Complexity makes key resources very, very concentrated (hello network effects). Increased interdependencies make us more vulnerable to pandemics such as Covid-19, financial, and ecological crises. This is a real system failure that justifies policy intervention. Complexity puts a big pie on the table, institutions give a chance to everyone who baked it to eat a piece.
To navigate this complex world, I make use of complex systems heuristics, network science and AI techniques. With my team, I also develop my own frameworks, large datasets, software and recommendation systems. I believe that the best way for a scholar to understand this complex society is to escape his office and interact with the world as much as possible. My applied activities range from helping policymakers and companies in their digital transition, investment choices, and several other key decision-making processes.