Melanie Mitchell’s life changed on the New York City subway. During her post-college stint as a high-school math teacher in Manhattan, every subway ride was an opportunity to conquer a few more pages of Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach. Reading it, she became fascinated with the way math, art, and music could help explain the emergent properties of intelligence. She realized she wanted to work with Hofstadter and become an AI researcher.
In 2011, Sean Carroll was sipping coffee on a boat traveling between Bergen, Norway, and Copenhagen, when it occurred to him that there was no better model for how life emerged from chaos than his favorite hot drink. Or, as he put it later, “why complexity increases with time and then decreases — in contrast to entropy, which increases monotonically.” The boat was hosting FQXi’s physicist conference, and when the theoretical computational scientist Scott Aaronson, who was on board, heard Carroll’s question, he fell in love with what he called Carroll’s beautiful idea.