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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Principles and applications of chaotic systems

There lies a behavior between rigid regularity and randomness based on pure chance. It's called a chaotic system, or chaos for short [5]. Chaos is all around us. Our notions of physical motion or dynamic systems have encompassed the precise clock-like ticking of periodic systems and the vagaries of dice-throwing chance, but have often been overlooked as a way to account for the more commonly observed chaotic behavior between these two extremes. When we see irregularity we cling to randomness and disorder for explanations. Why should this be so? Why is it that when the ubiquitous irregularity of engineering, physical, biological, and other systems are studied, it is assumed to be random and the whole vast machinery of probability and statistics is applied? Rather recently, however, we have begun to realize that the tools of chaos theory can be applied toward the understanding, manipulation, and control of a variety of systems, with many of the practical applications coming after 1990. To understand why this is true, one must start with a working knowledge of how chaotic systems behave—profoundly, but sometimes subtly different, from the behavior of random systems.

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