Video: What Computers Teach Us About Being Human

In a February community lecture, Brian Christian shared his experiences as a "confederate" in an annual man vs. computer "Turing Test," offering insights on ways computers are reshaping what it means to be human. Watch his presentation here.

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"Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and the Dynamics of Inequality in Small-Scale Societies"

Research conducted by Samuel Bowles, SFI Professor, and colleagues on small-scale societies, ranging from egalitarian hunter gatherers to hierarchical farmers and herders in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, concludes that the degree of wealth inequality in a society is based on inheritance. This variation in inequality is explained by a dynamic model in which a population’s long-run steady-state level of inequality depends on the extent to which its most important forms of wealth are transmitted within families across generations. The passing on of material things such as farms, herds and other real property, or even knowledge, skills and other valuable resources plays a large role in whether the next generation will accumulate or maintain high wealth status.

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"Rethinking What Leads the Way: Science, or New Technology?"

Consider what the state of science would be without the microscope, the telescope, or a more recent technical advance like automated DNA sequencing. There would still be science, rooted in human perception and reason. But it would be far less potent than modern science, which has technologically expanded the senses, and with computers, the intellect, to explore and decipher reality, from the universe itself to the most elusive subatomic particle. The popular view is that technology is the handmaiden of science — less pure, more commercial. But in “The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves,” W. Brian Arthur, an economist, reframes the relationship between science and technology as part of an effort to come up with a comprehensive theory of innovation. In Dr. Arthur’s view, the relationship between science and technology is more symbiotic than is generally conceded. Science and technology move forward together in a kind of co-evolution. And science does not lead.

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Online Video from Multidisciplinary Workshop on Energy and Climate Change

A trove of material from the first SFI Global Sustainability Summer School is available for free to the public online. The scientists highlighted the following conclusions on climate and energy: Scientific evidence that our release of greenhouse gases risks dangerously warming the climate is incontrovertible. The technologies needed to start solving the problem exist today and many are ready for large-scale implementation, though a full solution will require a major commitment to further research and innovation. These low-carbon technologies represent a large economic opportunity, but the ordinary course of innovation and technological diffusion is too slow to meet the challenge of addressing climate change. Large-scale government intervention is therefore needed to accelerate this process.

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"Dialing for Answers Where Web Can’t Reach"

There is a new service helping people in Uganda, who don’t have access to computers, find answers to their questions. Question Box was started and has been successful. Workers use their cell phones to call the Question Box call center to ask a question for locals. The call center then gives them the answer. The worker is then given free minutes for their cell phone usage. SFI Omidyar Fellow Nathan Eagle has been doing research on cellphones and development in Africa. Eagle also runs a cellphone-based business in Kenya. Eagle states, “We can’t sit in our offices in America and decide what is useful to people and what is meaningful in their lives. The services only add value if they are open-ended.”

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"Minority Students Needed in Math and Science to Combat ‘Brain Drain,’ Professors Say"

SFI External Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez is one of a group of mathematics and science professors who have called on the United States government to support institutional programs that have been successful in attracting and retaining minority students. According to Castillo-Chavez, many of the Chinese and Indian scientists and mathematicians are returning to their home countries. In order to keep up with researching and learning, the US will need to step up mathematics scholarships to universities.

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"A safe operating space for humanity"

SFI External Professor Sander van der Leeuw and colleagues have released a study stating that identifying and quantifying planetary boundaries that must not be transgressed could help prevent human activities from causing unacceptable environmental change. Van der Leeuw and colleagues found that three of the Earth-system processes have already transgressed their boundaries. These include: climate change, rate of biodiversity loss and interference with the nitrogen cycle. The evidence suggests that as long as the thresholds are not crossed, humanity has the freedom to pursue long-term social and economic development.

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"Google works on a different web"

Researchers have adapted Google’s web-ranking system to help in food webs. This new system could predict which groups of species would crash their food web if they became extinct. SFI Professor Jennifer Dunne calls this a “novel, exciting contribution.” Dunne goes on to say, “The problem of how ecosystems are likely to respond to the loss of species is quite important, particularly in light of how many different ways human activities are resulting in the local extinctions of populations.”

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Leonardo Governing Body elects Jim Crutchfield, SFI External Professor

Crutchfield teaches nonlinear physics at the University of California, Davis, directs its Complexity Sciences Center, and promotes science interventions in nonscientific settings. He is mostly concerned with what patterns are, how they are created, and how intelligent agents discover them. The Leonardo/ISAST serves the international arts community by promoting and documenting work at the intersection of the arts, sciences, and technology, and by encouraging and stimulating collaboration between artists, scientists, and technologists.

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"How to Measure What We Don't Know"

In their study, James Crutchfield, SFI External Professor and Physics Professor at the University of California at Davis, and graduate students Christopher Ellison and John Mahoney, developed the analogy of scientists as cryptologists who are trying to glean hidden information from Nature. As they explain, “Nature speaks for herself only through the data she willingly gives up.”

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"Nobel laureate honored in lecture series"

SFI, now celebrating its 25th year, will offer a series of three free lectures in tribute to Nobel Prize winner Murray Gell-Mann, starting Tuesday September 15 at the James A. Little Theater.

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"Wall Street’s Math Wizards Forgot a Few Variables"

According to finance experts and economists, the market meltdown was due to the failure of Wall Street's mathematical models of risk, which were too simple-minded. One scientist incorporating human behavior into models of risk is J. Doyne Farmer, SFI Professor. His research involves models of markets, institutions and their complex interactions, applying a hybrid discipline called econophysics. “You don’t need a model of human psychology to see that there was a danger of impending disaster,” Dr. Farmer observed. “But economists have failed to make models that accurately model such phenomena and adequately address their couplings.”

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Live Science, "World’s Stocks Controlled by Select Few"

A recent study of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries reveals all the world’s finances are controlled by only a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations. SFI External Professor and economist Matthew Jackson states, “Certainly people have some understanding of how large some of these financial institutions in the world are, there’s some feeling of how intertwined they are, but there’s a big difference between having an impression and actually having more explicit numbers to put behind it.

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"A Place Removed from the Pressure of Received Ideas"

Murray Gell-Mann, SFI Distinguished Professor and winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics was one of the originators of the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary research center in New Mexico that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Gell-Mann recently addressed a group of about 150 high school students gathered at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., for Adventures of the Mind, a biennial summit for academically outstanding 15- to 18-year-olds. Gell-Mann described the origins of and philosophy behind the Santa Fe Institute’s approach to science.

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"Here comes the sun (and wind)"

Omidyar Fellow, Jessika Trancik is a featured expert in an article on alternative energies in which she states "There are several dimensions of interest in evaluating energy technologies, including cost, carbon emissions, resource size, installation size, viability in different parts of the world, and land-use impacts, to name a few. A quantitative comparison allows us to better understand the trade-offs in moving from one technology to another."

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