David Krakauer

David Krakauer

David Krakauer


Director, WID, Professor of Genetics, Co-Director, Center For Complexity And Collective Computation


  • M.S., Computer Science and Mathematics, University of London
  • Ph.D., evolutionary theory, Oxford University


A graduate of the University of London, where he went on to earn a master’s degree in computer science and mathematics, David Krakauer received his D.Phil. in evolutionary theory from Oxford University in 1995. He remained at Oxford as a postdoctoral research fellow and two years later was named a Wellcome Research Fellow in mathematical biology and lecturer at Pembroke College. In 1999, he accepted an appointment to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and served as visiting professor of evolution. He moved on to the Santa Fe Institute as a professor three years later and was made faculty chair in 2009. Krakauer has been a visiting fellow at the Genomics Frontiers Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and a Sage Fellow at the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as well as by the Packard Foundation, the McDonnell Foundation, the Kent School of Intelligence Analysis, the Templeton Foundation, Lockheed Martin and several family foundations and trusts. A member of the editorial boards of the journals Theoretical Biology, Theory in Biosciences, Biology Digest, Interdisciplinary Science Review, Springer’s Monographs in Mathematical Biology, and Primers in Complex Systems, a series published by the SFI and Princeton University Press, he is the author of more than 100 papers published in scientific journals and the co-editor of Protocells: Transitions from Non-living to Living Matter, an account of current approaches to synthesizing new forms of life in the laboratory, which was published in 2008 by MIT Press. He is completing two new books, Cognitive Ubiquity: The Evolution of Intelligence on Earth, and Robustness, Causal Networks and Experimental Design with Princeton University Press.

Krakauer has worked collaboratively with several business partners including Google, Boeing, Fidelity and Intel. In 2012, he was included in Wired UK’s “Smart List” as one of 50 people who will change the world.

Research Description

Krakauer’s research focuses on the evolutionary history of information processing mechanisms in biology and culture. This includes genetic, neural, linguistic and cultural mechanisms. The research spans multiple levels of organization, seeking analogous patterns and principles in genetics, cell biology, microbiology and in organismal behavior and society. At the cellular level, Krakauer has been interested in molecular processes, which rely on volatile, error-prone, asynchronous, mechanisms, which can be used as a basis for decision making and patterning. He also investigates how signaling interactions at higher levels, including microbial and organismal, are used to coordinate complex life cycles and social systems, and under what conditions we observe the emergence of proto-grammars. Much of this work is motivated by the search for ‘noisy-design’ principles in biology and culture emerging through evolutionary dynamics that span hierarchical structures.

Research projects include work on the molecular logic of signaling pathways, the evolution of genome organization (redundancy, multiple encoding, quantization and compression), robust communication over networks, the evolution of distributed forms of biological information processing, dynamical memory systems, the logic of transmissible regulatory networks (such as virus life cycles) and the many ways in which organisms construct their environments (niche construction). Thinking about niche constructing provides us with a new perspective on the major evolutionary transitions.

Many of these areas are characterized by the need to encode heritable information (genetic, epigenetic, auto-catalytic or linguistic) at distinct levels of biological organization, where selection pressures are often independent or in conflict. Furthermore, components are noisy and degrade and interactions are typically diffusively coupled. At each level, Krakauer asks how information is acquired, stored, transmitted, replicated, transformed and robustly encoded.

The big question that many are asking is what will evolutionary theory look like once it has become integrated with the sciences of adaptive information (information theory and computation), and of course, what will these sciences then look like?


  • University of Wisconsin–Madison, Department of Genetics
  • External Professor, Santa Fe Institute