Robot Evolution Needs Mass Extinction Events

Computer scientists at the University of Texas at Austin believe that robots could evolve more efficiently if offered the opportunity for mass extinction events.


(Robots evolve)

Computer scientists Risto Miikkulainen and Joel Lehman co-authored the study published in an open-access paper in the journal PLOS One.

“Focused destruction can lead to surprising outcomes,” said Miikkulainen, a professor of computer science at UT Austin. “Sometimes you have to develop something that seems objectively worse in order to develop the tools you need to get better.”

...they connected neural networks to simulated robotic legs with the goal of evolving a robot that could walk smoothly and stably. As with real evolution, random mutations were introduced through the computational evolution process. The scientists created many different niches so that a wide range of novel features and abilities would come about.

After hundreds of generations, a wide range of robotic behaviors had evolved to fill these niches, many of which were not directly useful for walking. Then the researchers randomly killed off the robots in 90 percent of the niches, mimicking a mass extinction.

After several such cycles of evolution and extinction, they discovered that the lineages that survived were the most evolvable and, therefore, had the greatest potential to produce new behaviors. Not only that, but overall, better solutions to the task of walking were evolved in simulations with mass extinctions, compared with simulations without them.

Science fiction writers seem quite cautious about the idea of robots that evolve on their own. In his 1953 short story Second Variety, claws that come up from underground seem to demonstrate machine evolution:

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."

More recently, Rudy Rucker described boppers, self-reproducing robots that changed their shapes at will:

In the shaft's great, vertical tunnel, bright beings darted through the hot light; odd-shaped living machines that glowed with all the colors of the rainbow. These were the boppers; self-reproducing robots who obeyed no man. Some looked humanoid, some looked like spiders, some looked like snakes, some looked like bats. All were covered with flickercladding, a microwired imipolex compound that could absorb and emit light.

Via KurzweilAI.

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