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Volume 545 Issue 7654, 18 May 2017

A group’s collective action towards a common goal, even if everyone’s interests are aligned, faces a ‘coordination’ problem: an individual’s attempts to reach a solution that is optimal for him or her locally may not be optimal for the group as a whole. In this issue, Nicholas Christakis and Hirokazu Shirado demonstrate a potential solution to this problem in the shape of autonomous software (artificial intelligence) agents, or ‘bots’. They introduced simple bots into small networks of humans engaged in solving a standard colour coordination game — in which the collective goal is for every node to have a colour different from all of its neighbour nodes — thus creating a ‘heterogeneous system’ of humans and bots. They found that using the bots to introduce noise into the decision-making process could improve the overall performance of the group. The noisy bots worked best when they were placed centrally in the network and they displayed moderate (10%) randomness. Under these conditions, the bots not only improved human–bot interactions but also human–human interactions at distant nodes, thereby helping humans to help themselves. Cover image: Cavan Huang


World View

Seven Days


News Feature


  • Comment |

    Independent professionals advance science in ways faculty-run labs cannot, and such positions keep talented people in research, argues Steven Hyman.

    • Steven Hyman

Books & Arts




  • Obituary |

    Nobel prizewinner who trapped electrons and demonstrated quantum jumps.

    • Peter Toschek

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    It emerges that tumour cells can give rise to non-dividing cells that form part of the supporting microenvironment known as the niche. These niche cells secrete proteins that drive tumour growth and progression. See Letters p.355 & p.360

    • Meritxell Huch
    • Emma L. Rawlins
  • News & Views |

    Systems of quantum objects can be characterized by the correlations between the objects. A technique that precisely measures even the most delicate of these correlations allows models of quantum systems to be tested. See Letter p.323

    • Ian B. Spielman
  • News & Views |

    Ageing and many diseases are partly driven by the accumulation of damaged cells that no longer divide. It emerges that these senescent cells can be eradicated in mice using a drug that interferes with the activity of the protein FOXO4.

    • Manuel Serrano
  • News & Views |

    A classic paper in 1967 reported key advances in climate modelling that enabled a convincing quantification of the global-warming effects of carbon dioxide — laying foundations for the models that underpin climate research today.

    • Piers Forster
  • News & Views |

    The chances of solving a problem that involves coordination between people are increased by introducing robotic players that sometimes make mistakes. This finding has implications for real-world coordination problems. See Letter p.370

    • Simon Gächter





  • Column |

    Mutual respect, guidance and support are key to a fruitful relationship with trainees, says W. Larry Kenney.

    • W. Larry Kenney



  • Futures |

    Out for a duck.

    • Krystal Claxton




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