ERIS—2000 is a project exploring the impact of decisions on complex systems, it takes the form of a simulation of a fictitious scientific instrument from 1971, and a surrounding narrative of its use and creation, presented via a ‘discovered’ informational video from Birmingham Polytechnic. It uses the technology, aesthetics and concerns of that time to highlight particular parts of complex systems that would be more difficult to show now with ubiquitous computing and networked devices.

The ERIS—2000

ERIS—2000 is a scientific instrument invented by cybernetician Erica Symms in 1971. It was used to show and study, through a simplified simulation, the consequences of human decisions on complex systems.

The device is covered with an array of operational switches including twelve potentiometers fitted to the top surface. Turning the device on, the machine calibrates itself and starts emitting sound.


The scientist can intervene with the system by dragging one of the potentiometers out of place. This causes a change in the system represented by a fluctuation in the sound. Such an action has a cascading effect throughout the system as its neighbours move up and down their rails to compensate the difference. This allows us to observe how proximate components influence one another in a complex system and the resultant cascading effects.

As time elapses the sliders return to their original positions and the device’s behaviour returns to stability.

The Demo

To allow us to explore the functionality and experience of using the ERIS—2000, and to understand more about complex systems through that, we produced a simulated version of the device using an iPad interface, created with HTML/CSS/Javascript, a Max/MSP patch, and a simple local server for communication between them.

The Site

The project is contained within a microsite at eris-2000.co.uk/, allowing further explanation, as well as keeping the fiction going via its addition to search engine indexes and internet archives.

Update: the site now contains a live version of the Eris-2000, that can be played with. Find it at http://eris-2000.co.uk/simulator/.

With William Fairbrother and Alberto Ruiz Soler