SYMSYS 275/BIO 175
Collective Behavior and Distributed Intelligence
An Interdisciplinary Workshop

2016-2017 Spring Quarter, Stanford University

SYMSYS 275 / BIO 175: 3 units, Ltr-CR/NC

Instructors: Todd Davies and Deborah Gordon
(with assistance from Bernardo Huberman)

Wednesdays 4:30-5:20pm

Room 460-126 (Margaret Jacks Hall, first floor)

Public website:
Discussion forum (for class members only):
Birds flying in formation, from
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This version: June 2, 2017

Course Description

This course will explore possibilities for student research projects based on presentations of faculty research. We will cover a broad range of topics within the general area of collective behavior and distributed intelligence, in both natural and artificial environments. Students will build on faculty presentations to develop proposals for future projects. Enrollment is limited to 20 students.

Intended Population

The course is open to both undergraduates and graduate students, but is especially aimed at undergraduates who are looking to get involved in research with faculty related to collective behavior.


The course is a workshop, featuring presentations by faculty of their research, backed by appropriate readings. Students will be expected to write short reaction pieces each week, and to present an original research proposal by the end of the quarter.

Grading and Required Work

Students enrolled in SYMSYS 275/BIO 175 will be expected to do the following:

Grades will be assessed based on individual contributions to the class, as follows:

Schedule of Class Sessions

Week 1
April 5

Introductions and Overview
Todd Davies (Symbolic Systems), Deborah Gordon (Biology), and Bernardo Huberman (Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials)
Week 2
April 12

In A Flash: Crowdsourcing Organizations, Collaboration, and Research
Michael Bernstein (Computer Science)
General background:

For added interest in the topic:

Week 3
April 19

Better Than the Best: The Value of Collective Intelligence Bernardo Huberman (Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials) Watch this first:

Background reading:

Week 4
April 26

Communicative Action in Groups and Support Networks
Todd Davies (Symbolic Systems)
Background reading:
Week 5
May 3

An Engineer’s Perspective on Insect Swarms Nick Ouellette (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Background reading:
Week 6
May 10
Decision Making at Scale: Algorithms, Platforms, and Mechanisms
Ashish Goel (Management Science and Engineering and Computer Science)
Background reading:
Week 7
May 17

Centrality, Influence, and Diffusion in Networks Matthew O. Jackson (Economics)
Background reading:
Week 8
May 24

The Ecology of Collective Behavior in Ant Colonies
Deborah Gordon (Biology) Background reading:
Week 9
May 31

Student Project Proposals

Week 10
June 7

Student Project Proposals