Collective Decision Making: From Neurons to Societies - Press

From Santa Fe Institute Events Wiki


Krista Zala, SFI Update

Birds do it, bees do it, even puzzled PhDs do it. Somehow sets of similar individuals arrive at collective decisions, and an SFI workshop hopes to uncover their shared secrets.

“How do you get an entire swarm of bees to select a new spot for a hive? How do schools of fish decide where to go?” asks SFI part-time research professor John Miller, who is organizing the event with social insect specialists Nigel Franks and Tom Seeley. The January workshop, titled “Collective Decision Making: From Neurons to Societies,” will bring together some twenty experts to find common theories among their fields of microbiology, immunology, social insect behaviour, neuroscience, political science, and engineering.

With bees, scouts find and communicate their sites, and hive members act as a super-organism in reaching a choice without a central authority. By understanding how such decentralized systems make decisions, we can gain insight into how societies form, how they function, and how they break down. Common themes, as well as irreconcilable decision-making differences, may shed light on complex adaptive systems like trends in stock markets and in voting and offer strategies to improve how human organizations make decisions.

As Miller puts it, “Bees find new homes, political systems find new presidents. Maybe they aren’t all that different.”