Greater Diversity through Evolutionary Algorithms

Recently I read a rather interesting article from a Scientific American blog which hypothesizes about the shape of the human penis from an evolutionary standpoint.

[The methodology employed is described as  “logico-deductive investigative” — meaning that the penis current form is studied within the context of its function and hypothesis are formed, working backwards, regarding why this form came about. I imagine that this is the most natural methodology an evolutionary biologist or psychologist might employ. Understanding this and other methods of explaining evolutionary design might be an interesting exploration for some future post. ]

In a follow-up interview, the researcher Gordon Gallup emphasizes that evolution occurs by selection, not by design. “The raw material for such selection consists of nothing more than random genetic accidents (mutations).” As such, two separate genetic branches cannot be expected to follow the same path of optimization, even if starting with identical initial parameters. This is, of course, very fortunate, for it leads to the great diversity of life where so many radically different methods are employed to solve the same universal problems of survival. 

In contrast, the  solutions reached by purposeful human design are far more limited in diversity. A student of architecture, for example,  might be struck by the number of radically different approaches that humans have employed. 



This range of designs, however, is determined solely by human creativity and contrained by cultural, religious, and other influences. Augmenting human creativity with evolutionary computations could result in an explosion of design ideas.

While one might hesitate to accept that computers could so directly contribute to the creation of art, and before we dive in protest into philosophy and aesthetics, allow me to point out that 

  1. computers and electronic media are already an important contributor to art today, and all that is being suggested is an additional computer-based tool in artistic exploration
  2. we find diversity in nature beautiful, and there is no great difference between natural selection and a hypothetical evolutionary algorithm on a computer.

Architecture’s easily recognizable combination of engineering and art makes it a convenient example. The idea that the increased use of evolutionary methods could lead to a dramatically greater diversity of solutions, however, extends well beyond architecture to many other disciplines, both scientific and creative.

May 10, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Emergence. Leave a comment.