Artificial Life, Open-Ended Evolution, and the Origins of Biological Complexity
Abstract: Understanding the evolution of complex traits and behaviors has long been a challenge in evolutionary biology. Darwin himself recognized the difficulty of explaining the origins of traits of “extreme perfection and complication” such as the vertebrate eye, but provided profound insights into the process. I will discuss research where we study populations of digital organisms (using some techniques originally pioneered by members of the Santa Fe Institute), examining how they evolve new levels of complexity. I will specifically address issues related to novelty, diversity, ecological effects, and major evolutionary transitions, and discuss how specific environmental conditions affect the accumulation of information that is ultimately used to encode target complex traits. Finally, I will describe some of the steps that we are taking in an attempt to build artificial life systems that are as rich and open-ended as the natural world.
Bio: Dr. Charles Ofria is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Michigan State University and President of the International Society for Artificial Life. He is also a founder and the deputy director of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a $50 million NSF Science and Technology Center. 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. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1994 from SUNY Stony Brook with a triple major in Pure Math, Applied Math, and Computer Science. In 1999, he received a Ph.D. in Computation and Neural Systems from the California Institute of Technology, followed by a three-year postdoc in the Center for Microbial Ecology at MSU. Dr. Ofria is the 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. See http://www.ofria.com/ for more information.