NextNow’s Zann Gill on Evolution, Sustainability, and Collaboration

Our own Zann Gill recently recorded this video preview of her book, What Daedalus Told Darwin:  Darwin’s Dilemma and Designing Intelligence.

Zann was exploring evolution as a way to help understand the creative process, and ultimately was led to flip her inquiry:  might an understanding of design help shed light on the process of evolution?  Asking this question instead eventually helped her build on the case that Darwinism may have misrepresented Darwin (by attributing to him an extreme view–that all evolutionary change was a product of “survival of the fittest,”–which he apparently never held), that socioeconomic paradigms can and sometimes do shape the interpretation of scientific findings (and not just vice versa), and that if we dare question the logic of “survival of the fittest” (and examine its relationship to the tragedy of the commons,) we may find that elevating the status of collaboration to equal competition is as natural as accepting the importance of a balance between left and right brains–and as critical to our survival.  My favorite phrase for this balance is Elisabet’s Sahtouris’ “negotiated self-interest,” which she coined more than ten years ago to describe the need for self-interest to be tempered by a recognition of and respect for the common interest.  As obvious as this idea seems today, as a society we have still not embraced it–evidence of this is everywhere–which is likely a reason why Zann wrote this book.

The following 10 minute clip captures key ideas from recent talks at Google, NASA Ames Research Center, Stanford University Media X & SRI Artificial Intelligence Center. More at and; also, see the 48 minute video from her November 2009 presentation on the Google Tech Talks Channel (abstract included below).

Here’s a description of the talk she gave earlier this year at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at National University of Ireland:

social nets, semantic webs & evolving systems

Researchers have analyzed how social networks operate, from small organizations to nations and networks of people connected by similar values and objectives. But insufficient attention has been paid to harnessing social networks for cross-disciplinary, collaborative problem-solving. 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of his publication of Origin of Species. The theory of evolution is seen by many as the greatest theoretical breakthrough of all time.

Zann Gill will introduce findings that call for a more complete interpretation of Darwin’s theory (Stephen Jay Gould thought “Darwinism” misrepresented Darwin) and argue that this more complete interpretation of Darwin’s theory would drive sustainable development and offer a model for seeding and evolving “innovation networks” to develop smart systems for eco-sustainability at the intersection of ICT and green tech.
Here’s the abstract from Google Tech Talk:

Google Tech Talks
November 20, 2008


Highly innovative organizations face a constant challenge to process a flood of good ideas, both generated by employees and submitted from outside. In the wake of Google’s Tenth Birthday Competition, this talk describes how innovation networks apply principles found in life’s origins and evolution to “processing innovation.” Debates about how novelty emerged in the origin of life and its evolution toward complexity demand revising assumptions that we’ve taken for granted. Steven Jay Gould said that “Darwinism” misrepresents Darwin.

A more complete interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution could inspire new problem-solving methods with a range of practical applications, from multi-agent systems able to learn and improve their performance to cross-disciplinary decision support systems designed to address environmental sustainability challenges. Objective. To discuss nine principles of innovation networks and the problem-solving method they support.