Complexity Explorer Santa Few Institute

Algorithmic Information Dynamics: A Computational Approach to Causality and Living Systems From Networks to Cells (2018)

Lead instructor:

This course is no longer in session.


When does the course start?  June 11th, 2018

When does it end? September 15th, 2018

Who is the instructor?  Hector Zenil and Narsis Kiani are co-instructors, and Alyssa Adams is a co-developer and course teaching assistant. 

Hector Zenil has a PhD in Computer Science and was a postdoctoral researcher at the Behavioural and Evolutionary Theory Lab, Department of Computer Science of the University of Sheffield in the UK. He is also the head of the Algorithmic Nature Group, an invited member of the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) and a senior consultant for Wolfram Research. He is the editor of A Computable Universe and Irreducibility and Computational Equivalence published by World Scientific/Imperial College Press and Springer Verlag.

Narsis Kiani has a PhD in Mathematics and has been a postdoctoral researcher at Dresden University and at the Heidelberg University in Germany. She is a former VINNOVA Marie Curie Fellow in Sweden.

Hector and Narsis are assistant professors at the Unit of Computational Medicine at Karolinska Institute and co-lead the Algorithmic Dynamics Lab.

When is the next session? This will be decided after the course ends, but we plan on having a session in 2019.

What are the gifts for the top students? 

Several books on natural computing from Springer Verlag relevant to the course

Several copies of Chaitin's book "Proving Darwin: Making Biology Mathematical"

Booklets of George Boole original manuscript on Boolean algebra printed by the London Mathematical Society

Various memorabilia from the London Mathematical Society

Five printed and signed copies of the textbook conditioned to writing a review

The opportunity to publish a paper in the journal of Complex Systems, the first journal in the field founded in 1987


How much does it cost?  The first unit is completely open and free. To complete the course a modest tuition fee of $50 USD is requested.  Once the course closes, all the videos and quizzes will be freely available under the Archived Courses section of our site. 

Can I pay to take the full course at any time? Tuition is only accepted up to July 13th, 2018. This is to make sure you have enough time to complete the course and reach the end unit at the same time as the other students.  

I can't find out where to pay for the course! The link to pay the tuition is on a yellow banner on the course page, or you can go directly to once you have enrolled.  Do not submit a donation through our donation pages if you are trying to pay a course tuition; these are treated separately.  Contact if you think you paid in the wrong place and we will help get you fully enrolled. 

Ok I paid - how do I know if I have access? Go to your profile (click on your name on the top right of the website) and look at "my enrollments".  Next to this course's name you should see either an open lock or a trophy icon - if you see either of those, then you have access.   

I can't access PayPal in my country but I want to pay the tuition - what can I do? If you cannot access PayPal, we have a credit card payment system set up, there is a link under the PayPal payment button. When you pay through that system, we will give you access to the course manually, so it could take up to 72 hours to be given access.  Please only use this link if you absolutely cannot access PayPal.

How is Complexity Explorer funded?  Complexity Explorer was launched with funding from the John Templeton Foundation, which ended December 31st, 2017. We are currently supported by the Santa Fe Institute, user donations, merchandise sales, partnerships, and your tuition.  In order to help support future courses, we are asking for a modest tuition fee for this course. 

I can't afford the tuition fee, what can I do? If you can't afford the tuition fee you have two options.  Once the course is finished, the videos and quizzes will be available for free and you can use those to learn.  You won't be able to track your progress through the tests or interact in the forums or earn a certificate - if those are important to you, then you can apply for a tuition scholarship. Another way for you to watch the videos is through the Youtube playlist.

How can I get a tuition scholarship? We will offer a limited number of scholarships to deserving individuals.  Tuition scholarships are available for those who have significant economic hardship to give them the opportunity of earning a course certificate at no cost.  Please only request a scholarship if you are serious about completing this course and need the certificate and absolutely cannot afford it.  Enroll in the course, and then find the link for scholarships, or go to and answer the following:

  • What country are you located in?
  • Describe why you need a scholarship.
  • Tell us why you are taking this course and in what way a certificate would be valuable to you. 

Scholarship requests that do not have the above information will not be considered.  



Who is the intended audience?  Because of its nature, the course is aimed at least students with at least one semester of college-level calculus and physics to active researchers seeking to take advantage of new tools for algorithmic data science beyond traditional machine learning.

What are the prerequisites?  It is desirable that students have some idea of basic mathematics but optional modules will be provided in a parallel track. Also desirable is some programming skills, but also some basics of the Wolfram Language and even access to Mathematica will be given. The course, however, does not require you to adopt any particular programming language nor it really requires it.


How does the course work?  Each unit consists of a series of short videos, with each video corresponding to subtopics of the unit's main topic. The course website leads you through the videos in order, allowing you to skip or repeat videos as you desire. You can watch these videos at your own pace and in any order you desire; once posted, they will remain available throughout the course. The videos are interspersed with short exercises and quizzes, designed to test your understanding of the material covered in the previous video.  At the end of most units there is a test (graded automatically), the slides for the whole unit, and some additional asignments to complete.

The course is made up of multiple units.  Most of the units will be released one per week, and take about a week to complete. They will often be divided into five subunits (plus a final review subunit), which should take about a day to complete. At the end of every unit there will be a test and all of the slides.  

How does the peer review system work? During this course, there will be two times during which you will submit work to be reviewed by your peers, and you will also be expected to review assignments your peers submit.  

In order to pass the peer review section, you need to do two things:

  1. Submit your assignment before the submission deadline.
  2. Review three other students' assignments after the submission deadline and before the evaluation deadline.

You can find the peer review section(s) quickly by clicking on the "My Progress" tab, and then clicking on the appropriate section of the Homework/Exam column.  

To submit an assignment, upload the document.  Make sure your name is not on your assignment.

To evaluate other students' assignments, go to the peer review section and you will be prompted to download a file with one assignment. Follow the rubric, put comments in the comment box (this is required), and submit.  You will then be given a second assignment to review, and then a third.  Check the submission number of the ZIP file you download and make sure it matches with what is displayed on the screen. Do one assignment review completely to avoid accidentally evaluating the wrong assignment! Make sure you have done all the reviews before the deadline in order to receive your full score.

You should receive a reminder email about the submission and evaluation deadlines 48 hours before they are due.  It is your responsibility to make sure you complete the work by the deadline - the deadline will be listed on the peer review section, in emails, on the forum, and the instructor may bring it up during office hours.  

How are peer review segments graded? When you submit an assignment for peer review, you will receive an average grade based on the evaluations your peers will give you, which will count as 2/3 of your grade.  The remaining 1/3 of the grade is given to you when you complete three evaluations for your peers.  

Here is an example scenario:

  • You submit your assignment and go ahead and evaluate three other assignments.  You get 1/3 of the total points, so ~33.3%.
  • Your peers evaluate your assignment and give you an average score of 80%, which counts towards 2/3 of your total score, so ~53.3%.
  • Your total score for the peer review is therefore ~ 86.7%.

I completed three evaluations, why do I keep seeing more submissions to review? We require three evaluations from you, however, we will keep offering you optional submissions to review to help us ensure that every submission is reviewed at least three times.  You can review as many submissions as you like, or you can stop after three and continue on with the rest of the course.



How is the course graded? As described above, your grade will be based on having gone through all the end-of-unit tests, peer review assignments, and the final project. Your total course score will be your average score over these factors. Of course, since the course is not for credit, your scores are meant to be for your own tracking of your progress in the course. They will not be seen by anyone but you, and possibly our course team. 



How well do I need to do to receive a certificate, and will the certificate list my grade? You need to have completed all of the end-of-unit tests, peer review assignments and the end of course project, with an average score of 70% or greater (i.e., averaged over all tests, assignments and the project), to receive a certificate of successful completion. Your total course score will be the average of your test scores. Note:  You don't need to get 70% or greater on each test, only on the average over all tests. The certificate will not list your total score; it will simply say that you have successfully completed this course. You will also need to pay the $50 course tuition. 

Can I get university credit for this course? No, not at this time. It is possible that in the future we may be able to partner with colleges and universities so as to offer our courses for credit, but there is currently no mechanism for this.

Will I get any kind of certificate? Everyone who successfully finishes the course will receive a certificate of completion from the Santa Fe Institute.

How can I add my certificates to LinkedIn or share them on social media?

Certificates are available as a pdf download and also as a unique, public URL you can link to.  When you click on your certificates you will be taken to that public page.  Copy the URL and share it anywhere you like.   

If you want to post your certificates to LinkedIn, follow these instructions.  Navigate to your certificate. If the course session is closed, go to your account by clicking your name at the top right of the Complexity Explorer page.  Go to My Enrollments and then click on the Show N Enrollments in Past Courses text in grey.   From there you can click on your past certificates.  Copy the URL of the certificate, and then click on the Add Certificate to LinkedIn button.  Fill in the form by putting in the name of the course, the Santa Fe Institute, leave licence blank, add the month and year you completed the course, and then add the public URL.  



Is there a required textbook?  The textbook is included in the course tution fee and will be available as a dowloadable PDF by the end of the course in draft form and later in final form whcih will be free for students (an email will be sent).  

Is there any software required? No, but a 6 month free trial of Wolfram|One, the world's first fully cloud-desktop hybrid, integrated computation platform,  will be provided with the course.  There will be an option to extend this trial another 6 months for a total free trial on one year. 


In what ways am I allowed to use these resources?  All the materials on this site are available for your use for any non-commercial purpose. All materials (videos, code, write-ups, etc.) are covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License ( ). This states that you may copy, distribute, and transmit the work under the condition that you give attribution to, and your use is for non-commercial purposes.



Are subtitles and transcripts available?  The Complexity Explorer Project has an on-going project in which users volunteer to create subtitles in different languages.  As a new course, there are no subtitles yet.  



Do I have to enroll to take the course? Yes, you need to enroll in order to access any of the course materials. Once you enroll you can access the first unit for free; to access the rest of the units a tuition fee of $50 is requested. 

How do I enroll?  Enrollment will start April 30th, 2018

Can I enroll after the course begins? Yes, but to receive a grade and a certificate you must register, pay the tuition, and complete the exams and project before the end of the course.  You will need to enroll and pay before July13th. 

Can I pay to take the full course at any time? Tuition is only accepted up to month after the course start date. This is to make sure you have enough time to complete the course and reach the end unit at the same time as the other students.  



How much time does the course require? To complete the course in the given 10-week period, you
should expect to spend 1–2 hours per week watching videos and taking quizzes and exams, and 2–4 hours
per week on homework, for a total of 3–6 hours per week.  That said, the time spent on the course will vary depending on your math background and how many of the optional assigments you complete.



What are the rules on collaboration with other people? You are free, and encouraged, to discuss anything with anyone.  The course website hosts an online forum for students to discuss the course material, homework, etc. However, we ask that the end-of-unit tests be taken entirely on your own, without collaboration with others or help from the Web. Of course, we are relying on the honor system for our students to abide by these rules.

Is there a forum for discussion of course topics?  Yes. The course website hosts a forum in which course participants can post questions, answers, and otherwise discuss the course materials. Questions posted to this forum will be answered by the instructor, teaching assistant, and/or other students.

Will there be any other kind of social networking for participants?  We hope that students can use the course forum to set-up local "Meetups" for course participants who would like to meet in person.


How do I get the videos to play at a faster rate (e.g., 2x)? Our videos are streamed through YouTube. You can opt in on YouTube for their html5 player, which allows you to speed up or slow down videos. To opt in, go to

Can I download the videos directly, rather than watching them via YouTube? Yes, just click on the "Download" button that appears above the video screen on the page for each video.



I forgot my password or something is wrong with the site, what should I do?  Please send an email to



What if I have more questions?  Please address other questions to