Congratulations to Melanie Mitchell, who received the 2010 ΦBK Science Book Award for her book Complexity: A Guided Tour! In honor of this, Michelle and Lauren talk with Mitchell about ants, robots, the economy, and more.
Melanie Mitchell is Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University and External Professor and Member of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute. Her research interests include artificial intelligence, machine learning and complex systems.
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Amazing feats of collective intelligence, such as the colony of army ants that link themselves together to cross daunting precipices, are having an unconventional effect on the future of science. The “complexity” of these naturally occurring events cannot be explained by the traditional method of breaking science down into its most basic parts, in this case, the individual army ants. Instead, the study of complex systems, those made up of simple components with limited capacity for communication, provide a much broader illustration of the science of self-organization and adaptation.In Complexity: A Guided Tour (Oxford University Press, 2009), Melanie Mitchell draws on her background as a computer scientist and her work with the Santa Fe Institute to study the complex systems that have evolved in nature and how they may contribute to the future of computer programming, specifically with regards to artificial intelligence. Mitchell also looks at the human brain’s ability to create consciousness from a complex network of electrically charged neurons, axons, and dendrites, as well as the immune system’s unique collection of cells, which work together in an effective and efficient way without any central control.