Exploring Complexity in Science and Technology from a Santa Fe Institute Perspective - Faculty 2011

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Program Faculty:


Melanie Mitchell is Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University as well as External Professor and member of the Science Board of the Santa Fe Institute. She attended Brown University, where she majored in mathematics and did research in astronomy, and the University of Michigan, where she received a Ph.D. in computer science, working with her advisor Douglas Hofstadter on the Copycat project, a computer program that makes analogies. She is the author or editor of five books and over 70 scholarly papers in in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and complex systems. Her most recent book, "Complexity: A Guided Tour", published by Oxford University Press, won the 2010 Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award and was named one of's 10 best science books of 2009.

Melanie has served as Director of the Santa Fe Institute’s Complex Systems Summer School; at Portland State University she teaches, among other courses, Exploring Complexity in Science and Technology.


W. Brian Arthur, Researcher, Intelligent Systems Lab, PARC; External Professor, Santa Fe Institute. Author, The Nature of Technology: What it is and How it Evolves (Simon & Schuster). W. Brian Arthur is an IBM Faculty Fellow, and Visiting Researcher in the Intelligent Systems Lab at PARC (formerly Xerox Parc). From 1983 to 1996 he was Morrison Professor of Economics and Population Studies at Stanford University. He holds a Ph.D. from Berkeley in Operations Research, and has other degrees in economics, engineering and mathematics. Arthur pioneered the modern study of positive feedbacks or increasing returns in the economy--in particular their role in magnifying small, random events in the economy. This work has gone on to become the basis of our understanding of the high-tech economy. He has recently published a new book: The Nature of Technology: What it Is and How it Evolves, "an elegant and powerful theory of technology's origins and evolution."He is also one of the pioneers of the science of complexity.

Arthur was the first director of the Economics Program at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, and has served on SFI's Science Board and Board of Trustees. He is the recipient of the Schumpeter Prize in economics, the Lagrange Prize in complexity science, and two honorary doctorates. Arthur is a frequent keynote speaker on such topics as: How exactly does innovation work and how can it be fostered? What is happening in the economy, and how should we rethink economics? How is the digital revolution playing out in the economy? How will US and European national competitiveness fare, given the rise of China and India?


Aaron Clauset, Assistant Professor, Computer Science, University of Colorado, Boulder; former Santa Fe Institute Omidyar Fellow.Aaron's research spans several areas of the study of complex systems. His primary work focuses on the development of statistical models of, and data-analysis methods for, complex networks in the social, biological and technological fields. Much of this work has been methodological and brings together tools from computer science, physics and statistics. His current work focuses on generative models for the large-scale structure of networks, e.g., the hierarchical organization of modular organization, and the development of a mathematically principled methods for testing network hypotheses. Aaron also works on statistical models and empirical studies of violent conflicts like terrorism, and models of macroevolution. In general, he is motivated by interdisciplinary questions regarding the use of stochastic mechanisms to generate, and maintain, non-trivial "complex" or ubiquitous empirical patterns.


J. Doyne Farmer is a professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He has broad interests in complex systems, and has done research in dynamical systems theory, time series analysis and theoretical biology. At present his main interest is in developing quantitative theories for social evolution, in particular for financial markets (which provide an accurate record of decision making in a complex environment) and the evolution of new technologies (whose performance through time provides a quantitative record of human achievement). He was a founder of Prediction Company, a quantitative trading firm that was recently sold to the United Bank of Switzerland, and was their chief scientist from 1991 - 1999. During the eighties he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he was an Oppenheimer Fellow, founding the Complex Systems Group in the theoretical division. He began his career as part of the U.C. Santa Cruz Dynamical Systems Collective, a group of physics graduate students who did early research in what later came to be called "chaos theory". In his spare time during graduate school he led a group that designed and built the first wearable digital computers (which were used to beat the game of roulette). For popular press see The Newtonian Casino by Thomas Bass, Chaos by Jim Gleick, Complexity by Mitch Waldrup, and The Predictors by Thomas Bass.


David Krakauer, Professor and Chair of the Faculty, Santa Fe Institute. My research is concerned with the evolutionary history of information processing mechanisms in biology and culture, with an emphasis on robust information transmission, signaling dynamics and their role in constructing novel, higher level features. The research spans several levels of organization finding analogous processes in genetics, cell biology, microbiology and in organismal behavior and society. At the cellular level I have been interested in molecular processes, which rely on volatile, error-prone, asynchronous, mechanisms, which can be used as a basis for decision making and patterning. I also investigate how signaling interactions at higher levels, including microbial and organismal, are used to coordinate complex life cycles and social systems, and under what conditions we observe the emergence of proto-grammars. Much of this work is motivated by the search for 'noisy-design' principles in biology and culture emerging through evolution that span hierarchical structures. In addition to general principles there is a need to provide an explicit theory of evolutionary history, a theory accounting for those incompressible regularities revealed once the regular components have been subtracted.

Research projects includes work on the molecular logic of signaling pathways, the evolution of genome organization (redundancy, multiple encoding, quantization and compression), robust communication over networks, the evolution of distributed forms of biological information processing, dynamical memory systems, the logic of transmissible regulatory networks (such as virus life cycles) and the many ways in which organisms construct their environments (niche construction). Thinking about niche constructing niches provides us with a new perspective on the major evolutionary transitions.

Many of these areas are characterized by the need to encode heritable information (genetic, epigenetic, auto-catalytic or linguistic) at distinct levels of biological organization, where selection pressures are often independent or in conflict. Furthermore, components are noisy and degrade and interactions are typically diffusively coupled. At each level I ask how information is acquired, stored, transmitted, replicated, transformed and robustly encoded. With collaborators I am engaged in projects applying insights from biological information processing to electronic, engineered systems.

The big question that many of us are asking is what will evolutionary theory look like once it has become integrated with the sciences of information, and of course, what will these sciences then look like?


Uri Wilensky, Professor, Learning Sciences and Computer Science, Northwestern University; developer of the NetLogo agent-based modeling platform. Uri Wilensky, mathematician, educator, computer scientist and learning technologist, is the founder and current director of the Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling at Northwestern University. Dr Wilensky is an associate professor of Learning Sciences and Computer Science, holds an appointment in the cognitive science program and is on the governing board of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO). Dr. Wilensky received his PH.D from the MIT Media Lab. He has developed many computational tools for use in both research and educational contexts. His NetLogo agent-based modeling software is a state-of-the-art modeling and representational infrastructure that is in wide use by researchers in the natural and social sciences. He has also used this software to restructure foundational courses, replacing much of the equational representations with agent-based representations. The overarching theme of his educational research has been the creation of a theory and pedagogy of Connected Learning. In particular, he has focused on developing computational tools that enable reconceptualization of traditional math and science disciplines. His most recent projects focus on developing tools that enable users to simulate, explore and make sense of complex systems. Prof. Wilensky has directed several mathematics and science education projects under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. In 1996, he received the NSF's Career Award. Having authored a number of computer-based learning environments, Prof. Wilensky has been actively developing new multi-agent modeling languages such as NetLogo as well as Participatory Simulation Toolkits such as HubNet. These tools are designed for both research and learning. NetLogo has tens of thousands of users worldwide, including scientists from a wide range of disciplines and students from middle school through graduate school. He is also a founder and an executive editor of the International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning.