Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Robots and Evolution

Having returned from vacation Sunday night, I have been catching up on my 'blog reading. A post on The Panda's Thumb from Jan 21 caught my eye. Like a previous post I made back in November '05, this sits at the intersection of my interest in electronics/computers/robotics and my interest in evolution.

The object of this experiment (.pdf) was to test the evolvability of communication. The setup is pretty simple. The selection pressure is based on foraging efficiency in an environment with one source of food, and one source of poison, which are indistinguishable from a distance.

The robots in the test groups had the ability to flash a blue light. There were four test groups.

  • Closely related, colony selection
  • Closely related, individual selection
  • Unrelated, colony selection
  • Unrelated, individual selection
There was also a control group that was tested in the same environment but without the ability to flash a light.

All groups started with random 'genomes' in individuals. In three of the four test groups, communication evolved which provided a higher foraging efficiency than the non-communicating control group. Interestingly, some rudimentary altruistic behavior evolved, too.

Even more interesting was the fourth group: Unrelated, individual selection. It also evolved communication, but was slightly less efficient than the control group. Why? Its members evolved deceptive behavior.

That's pretty cool.

The thread quickly became a discussion of moral sense. Which is also interesting, but not something I really want to go into right now. However, one commenter provided a link to this article at the New York Times, about moral instincts. It's long, but well worth the time. Here is the concluding paragraph:
Far from debunking morality, then, the science of the moral sense can advance it, by allowing us to see through the illusions that evolution and culture have saddled us with and to focus on goals we can share and defend. As Anton Chekhov wrote, ''Man will become better when you show him what he is like.


2 people have spouted off:

Jackie said...

I'm glad to see you got home safely. We had a great time while you were here. It's a good thing you left when you did, though. Another day of eating like that and I would have "esploded." Too much good food! We'll have to do it again sometime.

Thanks for sharing the article. K and I are both going to check it out.

John said...
I had a great time, too.

I love to cook like that, but it's hard when it's just me. I tend to just grab whatever is available, then when I run out of food in the apartment (I tend to neglect grocery shopping, too), I just go out.
1/29/08, 7:48 PM