Sometimes, it’s easy for a computer to predict the future. Simple phenomena, such as how sap flows down a tree trunk, are straightforward and can be captured in a few lines of code using what mathematicians call linear differential equations. But in nonlinear systems, interactions can affect themselves: When air streams past a jet’s wings, the air flow alters molecular interactions, which alter the air flow, and so on. This feedback loop breeds chaos, where small changes in initial conditions lead to wildly different behavior later, making predictions nearly impossible — no matter how powerful the computer.
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