Thursday Extra 11/30/2017: Computational Evolution

Thursday, November 30, 2017
4:15 p.m. in Science 3821
Refreshments at 4:00 p.m. in the Computer Science Commons (Science 3817)

Using Computational Evolution to Understand the Origins of Biological Complexity is presented by Charles Ofria, professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University and president of the International Society for Artificial Life. His research lies at the intersection of Computer Science and Evolutionary Biology, developing a two-way flow of ideas between the fields, with the primary goal of understanding how evolution produces complex traits, behaviors, and intelligent processes.

Understanding the evolution of complex traits and behaviors in nature has long been a topic of intense interest in evolutionary biology. Similarly, constructing evolving systems that exhibit similar open-ended dynamics has been a grand challenge in the field of Evolutionary Computation, where researchers try to apply these natural dynamics toward solving real-world problems. Of course, Darwin himself recognized the difficulty of explaining the origins of traits of "extreme perfection and complication" such as the vertebrate eye, but also provided profound insights into the process. Ofria will discuss research where inspiration is taken from Darwin's ideas to study populations of digital organisms as they evolve new, complex traits in environments where they must perform mathematical functions to metabolize resources into additional CPU cycles. He will illustrate the processes by which digital evolution can be made to produce targeted complex traits, and demonstrate the power of these artificial life systems to help explain the rich diversity of life that we see in the natural world.

Ofria is also founder and deputy director of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a $50 million NSF Science and Technology Center, and he is architect of the Avida Digital Evolution Research Platform, which is downloaded over a thousand times per month for use in research and education at dozens of universities around the world.