MAS.S70: Complexity Seminar: From Bits, to People, to Societies

Fall 2015

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Media Lab

Day/ Time: Friday, 1-4PM
Instructor: Cesar A. Hidalgo
Location: E14-633, 9/18 and 12/4 Bartos Theater E15-070
Office: E15-392
Office Hours: By appointment


This seminar will bring together thought leaders from a diversity of academic backgrounds to discuss current topics in complex systems. The topics include cities, information, networks, and collective intelligence, among others. Classes will be based on lectures from two experts, followed by an hour of discussions. Students will be required to read selected publications prior to the class and to prepare three questions in preparation for the class.

Confirmed speakers include: Ed Glaeser (Harvard), Sarah Williams (MIT), Marta Gonzalez (MIT), Scott Aaronson (MIT), Jeremy England (MIT), Seth Lloyd (MIT), Alex (Sandy) Pentland (MIT), Paul Romer (NYU), Yaneer Bar-Yam (NECSI), Jukka-Pekka Onnela (Harvard), Andrew McAffee (MIT), and Deb Roy (MIT).

Grading: Pass/Fail
Attendance: Mandatory
Prerequisites: No prerequisites
Credits: 12

Evaluation: Students will need to submit three questions for each speaker the day prior to the class (before 11:59pm on Thursday) to, with the subject: Questions for MAS.S70 DateOfTheClass, with the date of the class in mm/dd format. Students will also need to write a short essay (less than 1200 words) in a topic that is related to the materials covered in the class.

Class Schedule:

September 11: Orientation. This class will set expectations for the semester. E14-633

September 18: The form and function of cities. Bartos Theater E15-070 

Ed Glaeser, Harvard
Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics,
Harvard Department of Economics

A World of Cities: The Causes and Consequences of Urbanization in Poorer Countries

Unhappy Cities

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (Introduction and Chapter 1)  (Amazon)

Brent Ryan, MIT
Associate Professor, Urban Design and Public Policy;
MIT Department of Urban Planning

Urban Design as Public Policy: Practical Methods for Improving Cities


London's Green Belt - 6 Newspaper Articles

September 25: Humans in Motion.  E14-633

Sarah Williams, MIT
Assistant Professor, Urban Planning
Director of Civic Data Design Lab,
MIT School of Architecture and Planning

Bejing Air Tracks: Tracking Data for Good

Here Now!: Social Media and the Psychological City

Marta Gonzalez, MIT
Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Director, Humnet Lab, MIT

Unravelling daily human mobility motifs

Coupling human mobility and social ties

The anatomy of urban social networks and its implications in the search ability problem


October 2: No Class

October 9: No Class

October 16: Information and Society. E14-633

Scott Aaronson, MIT
Associate Professor, Electronic and Computer Science

Quantum Computing Promises New Insights, Not Just Supermachines (

Quantum Computing for High School Students

Iyad Rahwan, MIT
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences,
Director of the Scalable Cooperation group at The MIT Media Lab

Global Manhunt Pushes the Limits of Social Mobilizations

Limits of Social Mobilization

Error and attack tolerance of collective problem solving: The DARPA Shredder Challenge

Targeted social mobilization in a global manhunt

October 23: Information in Nature. E14-633

Seth Lloyd, MIT
Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Systems


Jeremy England, MIT
Thomas D. and Virginia W. Cabot Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics,
MIT Department of Physics

A New Physics Theory of Life

Statistical physics of self-replication

October 30: No Class (Media Lab 30 year anniversary) 

November 6: No Class 

November 13: E14-633

Alexander Pentland, MIT
Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences,
Director, Human Dynamics, MIT Media Lab

Paul Romer, NYU
Professor of Economics, NYU
Director, The Urbanization Project, NYU

Economic Growth

Clear Writing Produces Clearer Thoughts

New goods, old theory, and the welfare costs of trade restrictions

November 20: E14-633

Yaneer Bar-Yam, NECSI
Professor and Founding President,
New England Complex Systems Institute

Complexity theory applied to policy worldwide 

General features of complex systems

Dynamics of Complex Systems (Full Text Online)

Making Things Work: Solving complex Problems in a Complex World (Amazon)

Jukka-Pekka Onnela, Harvard
Assistant Professor of Biostatistics
Statistical network science and digital phenotyping

November 27: No Class, Thanksgiving Holiday 

December 4: Bartos Theater E15-070

Andrew McAfee, MIT
Associate Director Sloan School of Management
Co-director MIT initiative on the Digital Economy

Will Humans Go the Way of Horses?

Deb Roy, MIT Media Lab
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences,
Director Social Machines group, The MIT Media Lab

Our Transparent Future

The Incredible Jun: A Town that Runs on Social Media