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The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities

Lehman, J; Clune, J; Misevic, D; Adami, C; Altenberg, L; Beaulieu, J; Bentley, PJ; ... Yosinski, J; + view all (2020) The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities. Artificial Life , 26 (2) pp. 274-306. 10.1162/artl_a_00319. Green open access

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Abstract

Evolution provides a creative fount of complex and subtle adaptations that often surprise the scientists who discover them. However, the creativity of evolution is not limited to the natural world: Artificial organisms evolving in computational environments have also elicited surprise and wonder from the researchers studying them. The process of evolution is an algorithmic process that transcends the substrate in which it occurs. Indeed, many researchers in the field of digital evolution can provide examples of how their evolving algorithms and organisms have creatively subverted their expectations or intentions, exposed unrecognized bugs in their code, produced unexpectedly adaptations, or engaged in behaviors and outcomes, uncannily convergent with ones found in nature. Such stories routinely reveal surprise and creativity by evolution in these digital worlds, but they rarely fit into the standard scientific narrative. Instead they are often treated as mere obstacles to be overcome, rather than results that warrant study in their own right. Bugs are fixed, experiments are refocused, and one-off surprises are collapsed into a single data point. The stories themselves are traded among researchers through oral tradition, but that mode of information transmission is inefficient and prone to error and outright loss. Moreover, the fact that these stories tend to be shared only among practitioners means that many natural scientists do not realize how interesting and lifelike digital organisms are and how natural their evolution can be. To our knowledge, no collection of such anecdotes has been published before. This article is the crowd-sourced product of researchers in the fields of artificial life and evolutionary computation who have provided first-hand accounts of such cases. It thus serves as a written, fact-checked collection of scientifically important and even entertaining stories. In doing so we also present here substantial evidence that the existence and importance of evolutionary surprises extends beyond the natural world, and may indeed be a universal property of all complex evolving systems.

Type: Article
Title: The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1162/artl_a_00319
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1162/artl_a_00319
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the version of record. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Surprise, creativity, digital evolution, evolutionary computation, experimental evolution, genetic algorithms
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Computer Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10100453
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