On Extreme Problems

Extreme problems are very large-scale multi-disciplinary problems, involving thousands or millions of variables and which cannot be solved using conventional technology. In such situations, it is impossible to determine the cause of the problem not only because of its sheer size but, most importantly, because it is frequently perceived through conventional eyes and distorted by narrow and linear thinking. It is not a matter of Big Data, AI, huge compute power or sophisticated math modeling – some things just cannot be modeled. Certain problems cannot be solved with traditional mathematics. A different approach is mandatory. A new mindset is key.

The toughest challenges facing humanity originate from excessive complexity

Examples of extreme problems:

  • Large-scale zero-day cyber attacks
  • Are we under attack? This is a question that makes the military loose sleep
  • Unexpected collapses of critical systems or infrastructures (transportation systems, IT networks, large corporations, trading systems)
  • Prolonged states of crisis, inefficiency or frequent system failures (process plants, transportation systems, economies, telephone networks)
  • Sudden catastrophic collapse (spacecraft, aircraft, software systems, ecosystems, stock markets)
  • Global emergencies
  • Post-crisis scenario management

Extreme problems cause extreme consequences.

Extreme Problems may be solved at their roots – their massive complexity

But why do Extreme Problems originate in the first place? Basically because of:

  • Bad design
  • Evolutionary and incremental approach to new challenges
  • Automation of old ways of thinking instead of innovation
  • Neglecting complexity during design

Extreme Problems often lead to extreme consequences because in highly complex systems:

  • Malfunction may not be detectable for long periods
  • Highly complex systems often operate close to failure mode
  • The crucial variables are discovered by accident
  • The likelihood of failure increases with complexity

 Solving Extreme Problems requires:

  • A new way approach to Problem Statement
  • A new solution strategy: data-centric not model-centric
  • Large-scope, large-scale systemic approach
  • World-class computational resources


Our global and inter-dependent economy is punctuated by shocks and destabilizing events which will increase in frequency and intensity. This means that extreme problems will become more frequent, more likely and more severe.

Established originally in 2005 in the USA, Ontonix is a technology company headquartered in Como, Italy. The unusual technology and solutions developed by Ontonix focus on countering what most threatens safety, advanced products, critical infrastructures, or IT network security - the rapid growth of complexity. In 2007 the company received recognition by being selected as Gartner's Cool Vendor. What makes Ontonix different from all those companies and research centers who claim to manage complexity is that we have a complexity metric. This means that we MEASURE complexity. We detect anomalies in complex defense systems without using Machine Learning for one very good reason: our clients don’t have the luxury of multiple examples of failures necessary to teach software to recognize them. We identify anomalies without having seen them before. Sometimes, you must get it right the first and only time!

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