Evolutionary algorithms now surpass human designers

1 08 2007

Kind of.

Paul Marks in New Scientist

CHARLES DARWIN’s theory of evolution has been the source of much controversy since its publication in 1859, most recently involving the intelligent design (ID) lobby in the US. Now the theory is fuelling another debate, although for once the battle lines have nothing to do with religion.

Instead of pitting God against science, the emerging spat centres on evolutionary algorithms (EAs), which mimic the processes of natural selection and random mutation by “breeding”, selecting and re-breeding possible designs to produce the fittest ones.

EAs take two parent designs – for a boat hull, say – and blend components of each, perhaps taking the surface area of one and the curvature of another, to produce multiple hull offspring that combine the features of the parents in different ways. Then the algorithm selects those offspring it considers are worth re-breeding – in this case those with the right combination of parameters to make a better hull. The EA then repeats the process. Although many offspring will be discarded, after thousands of generations or more, useful features accumulate in the same design, and get combined in ways that likely would not have occurred to a human designer. This is because a human does not have the time to combine all the possibilities for each feature and evaluate them, but an EA does. “Human engineers usually design stuff by tweaking a few parameters,” says Steve Manos of University College London, who has created optical fibres using EAs.

More here

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