Jessica Flack

Co-Director, Center for Complexity and Collective Computation, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Jessica’s research focuses on uncertainty reduction, coarse-graining and collective computation in nature and their role in the origins of biological space-time—that is, the evolution and development of hierarchical structure with multiple, functionally significant time and space scales.

Jessica and her colleagues study a wide range of collectives, from group of cells forming neural tissue, to groups of macaques forming animal societies, to groups of online gamers forming virtual societies.

Jessica received her BA with honors from Cornell University in 1996, studying anthropology, evolutionary theory, and biology. She received her PhD from Emory University in 2004, studying animal behavior, cognitive science, and evolutionary theory. For the next eight years she was in residence at the Santa Fe Institute, first as a Postdoctoral Fellow and then as Research Professor, and finally as Professor. She moved to the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2011. Jessica’s research has empirical and theoretical components and sits at the interface of evolutionary theory, pattern formation, behavior, cognitive science, computer science, information theory, and statistical mechanics. Although most of her work now is of a computational nature, she has spent thousands of hours collecting large behavioral data sets, including highly resolved time-series, from animal societies, and she conducted the first behavioral knockout study on social systems. In that study, she designed an experiment to disable a critical conflict management function—policing—to quantify its role in social system robustness in an animal society.

Current Projects

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