Novelty in biological, social, and technological systems provides the variety on which evolutionary processes act. But how does newness— both advantageous and unsuccessful — arise in the first place, and how does it define the surprisingly common evolutionary processes in these seemingly disparate realms?

A useful distinction is that between invention and innovation. Invention is the creation of something new, while an innovation is a successful invention...a transformative sort of newness. Both are essential for evolutionary processes, and both have long been of interest to SFI. The ability to innovate is, in fact, a defining feature of complex systems.

We believe that just as Darwin’s theory describes evolutionary processes in biology, so too might a Theory of Innovation describe the emergence and survival of novelty across the technological, social, and biological domains.

Just a few of the themes that animate our research are the origins of life on earth and origins of multicellularity, the evolutionary dimensions of social and cultural change, the drivers of technological change, the transformation of knowledge systems, the development of complex societies, the role of energy in human development, and the formation of ecological and social networks.

As we seek quantifiable parallels across these diverse systems, we ask: where does novelty come from? What are the factors and the processes that come together to create innovations? Like all SFI science, our research aims beyond the metaphorical. Through empirical, modeling, and theoretical research, we seek a quantitative, possibly predictive theory of novelty.

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