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Designing Innovative Research Ecosystems

James Evans
University of Chicago

How does innovation work? Can we design systems that optimize for innovative ideas and solutions? James Evans has been researching rich digital twins of knowledge ecosystems like science and Wikipedia. A key finding of his work is that diversity is the prime driver of innovation. In the episode we discuss which dimensions of diversity matter, and whether there is an optimal amount of diversity. We also cover how AI might help diversify the scientific idea space, and debate whether it may eventually replace human scientists.

Professor James Evans is the Director of Knowledge Lab, Professor of Sociology, Faculty Director of the Computational Social Science program, and member of the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science at the University of Chicago. He is also an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His research focuses on the collective system of thinking and knowing, ranging from the distribution of attention and intuition, the origin of ideas and shared habits of reasoning to processes of agreement (and dispute), accumulation of certainty (and doubt), and the texture–novelty, ambiguity, topology–of human understanding. He is especially interested in innovation–how new ideas and technologies emerge–and the role that social and technical institutions (e.g., the Internet, markets, collaborations) play in collective cognition and discovery.