Cover art for podcast COMPLEXITY


59 EpisodesProduced by Santa Fe Institute, Michael GarfieldWebsite

Far-reaching conversations with a worldwide network of scientists and mathematicians, philosophers and artists developing new frameworks to explain our universe's deepest mysteries. Join host Michael Garfield at the Santa Fe Institute each week to learn about your world and the people who have dedic… read more


Albert Kao on Animal Sociality & Collective Computation

Over one hundred years ago, Sir Francis Galton asked 787 villagers to guess an ox’s weight. None of them got it right, but averaging the answers led to a near-perfect estimate. This is a textbook case of the so-called “wisdom of crowds,” in which we’re smarter as collectives than we are as individuals. But the story of why evolution sometimes favors sociality is not so simple — everyone can call up cases in which larger groups make worse decisions. More nuanced scientific research is required for a deeper understanding of the origins and fitness benefits of collective computation — how the complexity of an environment or problem, or the structure of a group, provides the evolutionary pressures that have shaped the landscape of wild and civilized societies alike. Not every group deploys the same rules for decision-making; some decide by a majority, some by consensus. Some groups break up into smaller sub-groups and evaluate things in a hierarchy of modular decisions. Some crowds are wise and some are dumber than their parts, and understanding how and when and why the living world adopts a vast diversity of different strategies for sociality yields potent insights into how to tackle the most wicked problems of our time.

This week’s guest is Albert Kao, a Baird Scholar and Omidyar Fellow here at SFI. Kao came to Santa Fe after receiving his PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton and spending three years as a James S. McDonnell fellow at Harvard. In this episode, we talk about his research into social animals and collective decision-making, just one of several reasons why a species might evolve to live in groups. What do the features of these groups, or the environments they live in, have to do with how they process information and act in the world?

If you enjoy this podcast, please help us reach a wider audience by subscribing, leaving a review, and telling your friends about the show on social media.

Thank you for listening!

Albert’s Website

Albert’s Google Scholar Page

Quanta Magazine’s “Smarter Parts Make Collective Systems Too Stubborn”

Visit our website for more information or to support our science and communication efforts.

Join our Facebook discussion group to meet like minds and talk about each episode.

Podcast Theme Music by Mitch Mignano.

Follow us on social media:

Educational emoji reaction


Interesting emoji reaction


Funny emoji reaction


Agree emoji reaction


Love emoji reaction


Wow emoji reaction




A free podcast app for iPhone and Android

  • User-created playlists and collections
  • Download episodes while on WiFi to listen without using mobile data
  • Stream podcast episodes without waiting for a download
  • Queue episodes to create a personal continuous playlist
RadioPublic on iOS and Android
Or by RSS
RSS feed

Connect with listeners

Podcasters use the RadioPublic listener relationship platform to build lasting connections with fans

Yes, let's begin connecting
Browser window

Find new listeners

  • A dedicated website for your podcast
  • Web embed players designed to convert visitors to listeners in the RadioPublic apps for iPhone and Android
Clicking mouse cursor

Understand your audience

  • Capture listener activity with affinity scores
  • Measure your promotional campaigns and integrate with Google and Facebook analytics
Graph of increasing value

Engage your fanbase

  • Deliver timely Calls To Action, including email acquistion for your mailing list
  • Share exactly the right moment in an episode via text, email, and social media
Icon of cellphone with money

Make money

  • Tip and transfer funds directly to podcastsers
  • Earn money for qualified plays in the RadioPublic apps with Paid Listens