Albert Kao

It’s hard enough to figure out what makes an individual ant, bird, or human intelligent, but harder still to identify what makes a group intelligent. Incoming Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow Albert Kao is looking into to decentralized systems, asking questions like: what principles might make one flock of birds more successful than another, and how might we use those principles to nudge a group towards better performance? Kao, who has a Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Princeton University, has studied slime molds to understand how they transmit information in a decentralized manner. He’s also interested in theoretical applications of his work to areas as widespread as plant root systems and social media. “I’ve always been interested in neuroscience,” he says, “but neurons are contained in the body. Animal groups exist across space. Each animal is sensing something different, making an animal group a sensory, computational, decision, and movement array all at once.” His work pushes the boundaries of biology by connecting insights from species as different as slime molds, birds, and humans, and he plans to continue in this vein during his time at SFI. “Think of is as a wisdom of crowds,” he says, “but for all species.” Kao comes to SFI from Harvard University and will arrive in August 2018.