Research on Virtual Creatures ( Virtual Life)
A Proposal by Ivan Tanev & Tom Ray
The products of natural adaptive systems (such as living nature and the human mind) vastly exceed the complexity of anything created by humans. Only when we identify and harness the principles behind natural adaptive systems will we be able to create human artifacts of similar adaptive complexity. Several decades of exponential growth in computing power has brought us to the threshold of a new era in computation and has led to the ubiquitous presence of computing machines containing vast numbers of components. The luxury of this rich bounty of computing elements invites the creation of new paradigms in computation. The traditional and still ubiquitous Von Neumann computer is rigid and brittle. By its very design, it lacks the robust and adaptive quality of living organisms evolved and grown from genomes. Cross-fertilization between biology and computer science has opened the era of evolvable software and hardware, while at the same time the development of re-configurable chips is blurring the distinction between hardware and software. In a world where both genomic information and digital computing elements have reached the explosive phase of their exponential growth, where life can be seen as a form of computation and some forms of computation can be seen as life, where evolution can inhabit both the organic and the digital medium, an era of active exploration of fundamentally new, and often biologically inspired computer architectures has begun.
· Better performing, aesthetically and/or functionally
· Faster and more richly evolving
· More robust and adaptive
· More efficiently implemented in hardware
The ability of VC&R system to evolve both morphology and behavior, situated in realistically simulated environments, offers the opportunity to conduct research in many directions, including the following:
· Symmetry the evolution/emergence of planes of morphological symmetry in natural species (fighting gravity? locomotive efficiency? genome compression? optimum performance? checksum for tolerance to partial genetic damage? ...)
· Epigenesis development of VC&R through variable gene expression mechanisms
· Allometry growth of a part of an organism in relation to the growth of the whole organism or some part of it
· Heterochrony a genetic shift in timing of the development of a tissue or anatomical part, or in the onset of a physiological process, relative to an ancestor
· Parsimony principle applied to sensory abilities of VC&R (e.g. smell vs. color vision)
· Differentiation how functional specialization in multi-agent VC&R builds morphological specialization
· Polymorphism the comparative study of the presence of two or more distinct phenotypes in a population due to the expression of different alleles of a given gene
· Polyphenism polymorphism due to environmental changes
· Epigenesis polymorphism and polyphenism through epigenesis using controllable histone code and/or genetic regulatory networks
· Communication the emergence and survival value of morphological traits, relevant to signaling among VC&Rs
· Coevolution study of evolutionary interactions between multiple populations sharing an environment
· Social behavior study of cooperative, competitive, amorous and other interactions between individuals of the same species
· Directed graph VC&R systems utilize a flexible and powerful directed-graph representation of both morphology and neural circuitry.
· Evolvable The neural circuitry of VC&R is completely distributed, arbitrarily complex, yet seemingly highly evolvable.
· Universal controller architecture The directed graph of the neural circuitry defines the connectivity of the sensory inputs, the output actuators, and the processing elements, and may be considered to be a universal paradigm for building robot controllers.
· Hardware evolution Such a nervous system might have a straightforward mapping into hardware, suggesting a possible implementation of artificial brain as an evolvable hardware.