> 28_2, 2014 > Information, adaptation, and evolution in silico

Melanie Mitchell
Information, adaptation, and evolution in silico

05 2015

In 1984 the nascent Santa Fe Institute sponsored two workshops on “Emerging Syntheses in Science,” at which the Institute’s founders brainstormed their plans for the future. At the time I was a beginning graduate student in computer science and had never heard of SFI, but reading the workshop proceedings a few years later, I was very excited by the Institute’s goal to “pursue research on a large number of highly complex and interactive systems which can be properly studied only in an interdisciplinary environment.” The founders planned to define particular themes or programs that would benefit from the kind of intensive cross-disciplinary interaction offered by the new institute. SFI’s first official program, formed in 1987, was Economics. Before long, several influential players in the field took note of SFI’s novel interdisciplinary approach to economics, and the program grew quickly, in fact threatening to take over the fledgling organization. Founder and first SFI President George Cowan wanted to make sure economics did not come to dominate. Cowan wrote: “We had to start somewhere, but we also had to make sure from the beginning that economics didn’t become the one interest of the institute…I pushed hard to support at least one other program that would be equal in size to the economics program. We needed to broaden our academic agenda, and spread our bets.” Cowan’s push was to start a program in “adaptive computation.”