W. Brian Arthur

W. Brian Arthur

Formal First Name
W. Brian
1945 - present

W. Brian Arthur is a leading economist, complexity thinker, and well known authority on economics in relation to technology, complexity theory and financial markets. He is an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and a Visiting Researcher in the Intelligent Systems Lab at PARC. Arthur is also well known for his pioneering theoretical work on positive feedback or increasing returns in the economy, which offered a paradigm-changing explanation of why some high-tech companies achieve breakaway success. He is also one of the pioneers of the science of compl of compl of compl of compl of complexity—the science of compl of compl of compl of compl of how patterns and structures self-organize, and is credited with the invention of the El Farol Bar problem. His work has gonecon to become the basis of our understanding of the high-tech economy. In the 1980s and early 90s, he led the Santa Fe Institute’s team researching the economy as an evolving, complex system; this work has developed over time into the new thinking called “complexity economics.” Previously, he was Morrison Professor of economics and Population Studies at Stanford University.

Professional Experience

Academic History


  • He pioneered the modern study of positive feedback or increasing returns in the economy.

  • The study focused in particular their role in magnifying small, random events in the economy.

  • This work has gone on to become important to our understanding of the high-tech e onomy.


  • He led a group at the Santa Fe Institute to develop an alternative approach to economics —"complexity economics."

  • Complexity economics assumes actors in the economy do not necessarily face well-defined problems or use super-rationality.

  • In this non-equilibrium view of the economy, bubbles and crashes can happen, markets can be "gamed" or exploited, and history and institutions matter.


  • The book is a theory of evolution for technology that argues technology, like biological life, evolves from earlier forms.

  • The book explains in detail how the combination of earlier technologies makes new technologies.

  • It argues that the economy isn't just a container for its technologies; the economy emerges from its technologies.



  • Member, Founders Society of the Sante Fe Institute

  • Science Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board an Board and Board of Trustees, Sante Fe Institute


  • Complexity and the Economy (2014)

  • The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves (2009)

  • The Economy as an Evolving Complex System II (1997)

  • Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy (1994)