Dr Philip Garnett

“You should prefer a good scientist without literary abilities than a literate one without scientific skills.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I am a complex systems scientist and Professor of Systems and Organisation based at the University of York UK. I am also the Society and Ethics Pillar Lead at the Institute for Safe Autonomy, and a board member of the Science and Technology Studies Unit (University of York UK). I was a long time member of the management board for the York Centre for Cross-disciplinary Systems Analysis (University of York UK), a complex systems research institute that was eventually wrapped up around 2023. I am also a member of the advisory board for the Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund.

Research Interests

My research interests are focused around the application of systems theory, complex systems theory, and network analysis techniques to the analysis of organisations and groups of organisations (business, governments etc). I combine modelling and simulation techniques (agent based modelling, and network analysis) with the analysis of information (both qualitative and using methods like natural language processing and machine learning/AI) to research organisations and society, and how interventions can be made in complex systems and outcome understood (to the extend that this is possible). Related to this I am interested in how the culture, memory, and knowledge of an organisation can be theorised as an emergent property of the complex system itself. I am also interested in systemic processes of power and their consequences for our privacy and liberty, and I conduct some research on whistle blowers, cyber security, and leaks.

My work as the Society and Ethics pillar lead at the Institute for Safe Autonomy allows me to combine work on how organisations work and make decisions with reseach into Autonomous systems and AI. It is very likely that autonomous systems broadly conceived will have profound and far reaching impacts on how organisations work and the role of humans in organisations.

I also have a philosophical interest in complexity theory and complex thinking. Including the intellectual origins of the work (Cybernetics and systemic theory and so on), what these techniques say about failure, and the links between complexity society and other fields of study such as Assemblages and Atmospheres.


My scientific background is in the modelling and simulation of biological systems. I started my academic career as a geneticist (BSc Genetics, University of Nottingham, UK) and quickly realised that it was the modelling aspects of this field that I was most interested in. For example, the modelling of drift and selection in populations (work that has carried forward into work on ngrams). I then went on to study for an MSc Information Processing (University of York, UK), and eventually did a PhD in Computational Biology (University of York, UK). Over this time, my interest in modelling social systems also developed.

Current Research Projects:

I am currently working on a few related research projects, many of which are collected under the meta-project Algorithmic Indexing:

Complexity, Systems, and Cybernetics

All of my research is underpinned by my interest in complexity theory, systems theory, and cybernetics. I therefore approach all of my research through this framing. I am also interested in the history of complexity, systems, and cybernetics.

The impact of advance techonologies like AI and Machine Learning on Organisations and how they work

Complex Systems, Organisational Memory, and Culture

One of the features of complex systems is that they can have memory, their current state is influenced by previous states and can influence future states. I am interested in what this aspect of complexity theory can tell us about organisational memory and culture.

Private Chelsea Manning Court Documents: Documentary evidence, often in the form of PDF files, is often released in support of court cases and public inquiries. This evidence is on the face of it released to improve the transparency of the process. However, questions remain about how transparent this type of evidence release truly is. Selective release and redaction of documents could be as much about the control of a narrative as it is about transparency. The datasets released are often hard to read and search, and therefore it is difficult to determine if they support the outcome or conclusions of the inquiry or court case or not. This aspect of my research attempts to improve the accessibility of public datasets to allow people to draw their own conclusions about the process, the outcome, and the evidence. Some of this work has been published in the journal of Political Geography1.

Public Inquires, Leveson and Chilcot: Public inquires of this type are increasingly releasing some of the the evidence that was collected and used during the process. This project applies the above techniques to these resent and on-going public inquires to make the evidence more accessible and therefore easier to relate to the outcome of the process. There is a sub-project to this looking at the Danial Morgan Murder, website here, there is also a blog post.

Business History:

Banking History: I have a productive an on-going collaboration with a number of business historians looking at banking history.

Hillards Super Market: Hillards was a significant player in the supermarket industry up until its takeover by Tesco in 1987. Founded in 1885, it grew from a single store to over 200 in its one hundred years of trading.  This project is rescuing the remaining archive material through a process of digitisation, to produce a high quality searchable digital resource. Using advanced data analytics methods that many of my research projects have in common. This project is supported by a grant from the British Academy of Management, website the Hillards Archive.

Organisational Networks: Using the Banking and Mining sectors of the 20th century as a test case, this research investigates how banks and mining companies were linked together and how these connections may have influenced both the individual companies and the sector as a whole (journal papers: Complexity Meets History, Banks, births, and tipping points in the historical demography of British banking).

General Research Themes

PhD applications in the following thematic areas are welcome (Complexity Theory, Network Analysis, and AI, ML, and Big Data).

  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. I am interested in how organisations use and integrate AI and ML into their operations. In particular I am interested in the role of AI and ML in decision making processes within organisations and the systemic effects that this will have on organisations in the future.
  • Modelling and simulation of organisational behaviour. How do the interactions of connect organisations shape the development of economic sectors? What are the significance of hidden and explicit connections between businesses, such as shared directorships? This research uses network analysis techniques and modelling to investigate now relationships between business and the people running them influence those businesses and the wider economy.
  • Data Mining and Analytics. Business (and society at large) generates huge amounts of information. Leveraging this mountain of information to extract value is becoming increasingly challenging. We use modelling and analytical techniques to help mine information out of Big Data.
  • The effect of Big Data analytics on privacy and liberty. Information can be both a defender liberty, as it can increase transparency in society. It however can also be be used to erode our civil liberties and freedom, by increased surveillance by both the state and private sector.
  • Systems of systems. Increasing dealing with the complexity of physical, natural and human systems, and how they are connected demands new approaches to their study. We use the notion of systems of systems to model different aspects of society, such as the distribution of risk in financial systems.


  • Modelling and Simulation of Complex Systems.
  • Data mining.
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Big Data – including storage in of data Graph Databases, Neo4J, NoSQL and MySQL.
  • Programming Java, C/C++, GPGPU, PHP.

Update posts can be found on the blog page, and I have a YouTube channel.

  1. Garnett, Philip, and Sarah M. Hughes. 2019. “Obfuscated Democracy? Chelsea Manning and the Politics of Knowledge Curation.” Political Geography 68 (January): 23–33. ↩︎