Robot Brains Improved By Darwinian Evolution

Principles of Darwinian evolution are being used to develop robot brains at Michigan State University.

"Previous attempts to design human-like intelligence have failed because we don't understand how our own brains work," said Chris Adami, a computational biologist at Michigan State University. "But we know how evolution works and we can speed it up inside of a computer."

Adami's group uses genetic algorithms operating on a mathematical framework called Markov networks to model a large population of robot "brains" working on a particular task, like finding the exit to a maze. The brains that perform the task best have the largest number of simulated "offspring." The researchers run this genetic algorithm over thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of generations, and then download the surviving brains into robots that execute the tasks in the outside world.

Adami believes that evolving robot brains in complicated worlds that force them to interact with each other is the best path toward self-aware intelligence. "When robots have to make models of other robots' brains, they are thinking about thinking," he said. "We believe this is the onset of consciousness."

Note also that work has been done to show that robot bodies can also be improved; see this Evolutionary Robotics To Design Better Robots video.

As far as I know, one of the earliest references to the idea of machine evolution took place in Philip K. Dick's excellent 1953 short story Second Variety, in which claws come up from underground:

The new varieties of claws. We're completely at their mercy, aren't we? By now they've probably gotten into the UN lines, too. It makes me wonder if we're not seeing the beginning of a new species. The new species. Evolution. The race to come after man."
(Read more about Philip K. Dick's machine evolution)

Via PhysOrg.

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