Novelties are part of our daily lives. We constantly adopt new technologies, conceive new ideas, meet new people, experiment with new situations. Occasionally, we as individuals, in a complicated cognitive and sometimes fortuitous process, come up with something that is not only new to us, but to our entire society so that what is a personal novelty can turn into an innovation at a global level. Innovations occur throughout social, biological and technological systems and, though we perceive them as a very natural ingredient of our human experience, little is known about the processes determining their emergence. Still the statistical occurrence of innovations shows striking regularities that represent a starting point to get a deeper insight in the whole phenomenology. This paper represents a small step in that direction, focusing on reviewing the scientific attempts to effectively model the emergence of the new and its regularities, with an emphasis on more recent contributions: from the plain Simon's model tracing back to the 1950s, to the newest model of Polya's urn with triggering of one novelty by another. What seems to be key in the successful modelling schemes proposed so far is the idea of looking at evolution as a path in a complex space, physical, conceptual, biological, technological, whose structure and topology get continuously reshaped and expanded by the occurrence of the new. Mathematically it is very interesting to look at the consequences of the interplay between the "actual" and the "possible" and this is the aim of this short review.
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