Cyber phenom feels home with the ‘smart crazies’ — ‘Disruptive technologist’ drawn to Santa Fe Institute

Virgil Griffith, the creator of WikiScanner, has spent the past four summers as an undergraduate researcher at SFI. WikiScanner is a program that lets you see who is editing content in Wikipedia. Griffith began his work on WikiScanner while at SFI. This WikiScanner program has busted Wal-Mart and several other major corporations editing and removing content from the Wikipedia entry of their companies. Griffith has been drawn to SFI since he was in high school. He always wanted to be “where all the really smart crazies are.” And as SFI President Geoffrey West said, “He’s certainly one of our crazy smart people. He’s very interesting and he’s very SFI-ish.” Griffith will spend all of September at SFI continuing work on his plethora of projects.
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"Phone Data"

Mobile phones are being used to collect data for a variety of different disciplines and SFI Omidyar Fellow, Nathan Eagle, is studying human movement and behavior through mobile phones. In an experiment at MIT, Eagle studied call logs of 100 students and staff and found he could sort the business students from other majors with 96% accuracy. Eagle is going to experiment on a larger scale next by studying millions of mobile phone users throughout Europe and parts of East Africa. Part of his study is to see if certain phone behaviors can help alert public health officials in the early stages of disease outbreaks.
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CIA and FBI Computers used for Wikipedia Edits

SFI researcher, Virgil Griffith, created a program called WikiScanner, which tracks computers used to make changes and edits to Wikipedia entries. WikiScanner revealed CIA and FBI computers were used to edit topics on the Iraq War and the Guantanamo prison. WikiScanner also found computers at other organizations were used to edit topics related to them.
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"Mortgage Investors Form Battle Lines Over Housing Aid (Update 1)"

Mortgage investors mostly agree that the government’s plan to reverse the housing slump is doing more harm than good. The government’s actions will increase borrowing costs because creditors would demand higher returns. Capital is going to cost more. Economist and SFI external professor John Geanakoplos has stated that “Obama’s plan will mostly be ineffective in cutting losses because it focuses on lowering payments rather than reducing homeowner debt.” Geanakoplos has advocated breaking contracts by putting the power to modify loan terms into the hands of independent arbiters.
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Systems Biology: Oh, Behave

Harvard Medical School professor and SFI external professor, Walter Fontana and colleagues have created Cellucidate, a new tool to help biologists uncover general principles about cellular signaling. Cellucidate would turn network diagrams of signaling pathways into living and breathing systems. Fontana mixed Kappa, a computer language “tuned to express basic interactions between proteins,” with a method called “coarse-graining” into computational models. By coarse-graining under Kappa’s rules, an automated compression is formed, filtering out permutations that have no bearing on the current model. The goals of Cellucidate include modeling and simulation to speed drug discovery and cure cancer. Fontana also helped found a company called Plectix BioSystems which provides a shared online space for scientists to use Cellucidate. Fontana adds, “Plectix wants to be the Facebook of proteins…where scientists will make models collaboratively.”
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Warfare, culture and human evolution

Warfare was sufficiently common and lethal among our ancestors to favor the evolution of what Sam Bowles, SFI Professor, calls parochial altruism, a predisposition to be cooperative towards group members and hostile towards outsiders. Biologists and economists have doubted that a genetic predisposition to behave altruistically (help others at a cost to oneself) could evolve (excepting the help extended to close genetic relatives). Skepticism among biologists arose primarily because most think that groups are not sufficiently different genetically to favor group selection (the most obvious evolutionary mechanism promoting altruism beyond the family). But both observation in natural settings and experiments (some of them by Bowles and his co authors) show that altruism is quite common among humans (much more so than in most other animals). In a series of recent papers Bowles shows that altruism could have evolved among humans as a result of the advantages that altruistic groups have in military and other competition with other groups.
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"Leverage: The Root of All Financial Turmoil"

During a recent German Physical Society meeting Stefan Thurner, SFI External Professor and director of complex systems research group at the Medical Univeristy of Vienna, reported that leverage--the practice by hedge funds and other investors of borrowing money to buy investments--is the root of many nettlesome properties of financial markets that classical economics cannot explain, including a propensity to crash. The model shows that many of the distinctive statistical properties of financial markets emerge together as rates of leverage climb.
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"The Post-Darwinian World" - James A. Little Theater, New Mexico School for the Deaf

We live in a post-Darwinian world, and it is no longer possible to conceive of life without some reference to Darwin's theories. But the world is more complex than Darwin supposed. Whereas an evolutionary perspective pervades all of biology, economics and politics, we are confronted by a range of post-Darwinian complexities and challenges that require a new and expanded set of ideas. Five short presentations by SFI faculty explore both the influence and the limitations of Darwin's thought on modern science, and introduce several of the ways the Santa Fe Institute has responded to and built upon Darwin's legacy.
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Portfolio.com - Physicists Try to Predict Economy: The Crash-Test Solution

Many people are regarding this current economic collapse as a “black swan” or an unpredictable sudden shift. But physicists and other scientists say it is predictable and they can prove it through science and technology. These scientists can create a computer model of our entire economy to study complex systems such as the financial markets. Yale economist and SFI External Professor John Geanakoplos is currently working with physicists in examining hedge funds and how their competition to win investors shifted the market. Economists need to partner with scientists to get a complete holistic view of the situation and work toward predicting the same situation early enough to stop in and make the necessary changes in time.
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Op Ed: Matters of Principal

John Geanakoplos, SFI External Professor, and Susan Koniak write that the plan announced by the White House will not stop foreclosures because it concentrates on reducing interest payments, not reducing principal for those who owe more than their homes are worth. The plan wastes taxpayer money and won’t fix the problem.
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Adapting to a New Economy

SFI External Professor and Professor of Economics and Information Science at Cornell University, Lawrence Blume, discusses the use of Darwinian ideas in economics ...
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President West illustrates how biological research points to mankind’s destruction

January 5, 2009 / SFI President Geoffrey West is researching the similarities between biology and human organizations such as cities. West began by researching biological networks which led him to compare his findings on natural systems to the social systems of cities. To illustrate his findings, West uses examples of an elephant versus a mouse to show how in biology, the bigger an individual is, the slower the pace of its life. However, the opposite shows true in social organizations such as cities, where the bigger the organization, the faster their actions. West attributes the difference to wealth creation of our societies. This creates an unsustainable way of life.
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Professor Watts explains why predicting is so difficult

January 4, 2009 / SFI External Professor Duncan Watts explains the two main reasons why predicting outcomes is difficult. For one, individuals are hard to predict because we can change our behavior based on subtle details such as background music or a writer’s font selection. Secondly, individuals decide many things based on popularity with others. To demonstrate this, Watts and collaborators conducted online experiments to see how certain songs become hits while other songs don’t make it. When you have people making decisions based on what other people are doing, prediction becomes impossible due to the errors of social influence.
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Does city life help or hurt your brain?

January 2, 2009 / Researchers at SFI have created complex mathematical algorithms to show how urban settings lead to higher levels of innovation. This is partly due to many strangers interacting in unpredictable ways. These researchers refer to it as “concentration of social interactions.” Other research has shown that city life impairs our memory and self-control but that nature, even a walk through a park, helps your mind. So then we need to find a way to balance the intellectual innovations while still being able to cope with stressors in densely populated urban areas.
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Study Shows Happiness is Contagious

January 1, 2009 / A New Scientist study reports how happy we are is directly linked to how happy our friends are and vice versa. SFI External Professor and sociologist at Columbia University, Duncan Watts points out that we are “inherently social creatures.” So part of how we feel and who we are, is determined by our social circles. Today we interact so frequently by computers, cell phones, and blackberries. This study shows the need we all have to interact face to face is important to our own happiness as well as our friends’.
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Professor Geanakopols discusses the high cost of capital

January 1, 2009 / Yale University professor and SFI External Professor John Geanakoplos discusses the economic impact of leveraging and deleveraging. He says the problem has to do with bigger collateral requirements than in the past. Geanakoplos states the cost of capital will stay high without policies, which would support prices of assets.
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Hedge funds can deceive you

December 17, 2008 / SFI External Professor Peyton Young and coauthor Dean Foster show how hedge funds have the power to deceive you in their study; The Hedge Fund Game: Incentives, Excess Returns, and Performance Mimics. They show how vulnerable the market is to unskilled traders. The unskilled trader may appear skilled and you wouldn’t know the difference until it is too late and the fund blows up.
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SFI External Professor Rockmore researches topological structures in the equities market network

December 16, 2008 / SFI External Professor Daniel Rockmore and coresearchers study the complex systems of the financial markets. Rockmore and colleagues created the “partition decoupling method” (PDM) which combines the partition scrubbing method and the hierarchical spectral clustering method. The PDM would be used for decomposing the correlation networks of the markets. The end result would reveal interdependencies in the network components. This information would be useful in risk management and portfolio construction.
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Experts: Thailand AIDS Vaccine Will Fail

Bette Korber, of the Santa Fe Institute, along with 21 other researchers — including Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus- signed a short opinion piece recently published in the Journal of Science. The scientists believe that a $119 million federally funded experiment in which an AIDS vaccine is being tested on 16,000 volunteers in Thailand is doomed to fail and should never have been started. "They are taking two failed products and hoping that if they are combined that they are going to work," said Dennis Burton, an AIDS researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. "Everything I've seen about the Thai trial suggests that it doesn't have a prayer." The experiment is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Pentagon and is being carried out by the Thai government.
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