The objective of this project is to study evolution process in a computer-simulated artificial world. We hope that, like in the real world, despite randomness and aimlessness of basic evolution mechanisms, it will lead to creation of more and more efficient artificial organisms, still better and better adapted to the artificial world conditions.
For many years people used computers to simulate Nature. This kind of research also belongs to a field of science called "Artificial Life" (AL). The name is obviously connected with "Artificial Intelligence" – both fields of study partly overlap, but AL has more in common with biology and physics. It might be called a branch of biology, because we study living (or "living", depending on the definition of this word) organisms in an environment. No matter that the environment is an artificial, virtual world inside a computer: philosophers haven't yet decided whether our world is real and, nevertheless, biologists keep examining its living organisms. In addition, our made-up worlds let us (until we visit other, very distant planets) study signs of life which has nothing to do with proteins.
Scientists studying AL concentrate on various fields and serve many purposes. Rules of simulated worlds do not have to be like real ones, but such models seem more interesting (perhaps because you are able to directly compare simulation results with reality).
Boids are an example of creatures following a few simple rules, which nevertheless make them group with others (like fish shoals or bird herds). This kind of behavior was used in film making (computer control of animals' models – "Lion King", "Batman forever" and many advertisements). More sophisticated models include learning and self-improving creatures. Artificial organisms (i.e. carriages with engines) can be taught to avoid obstacles, seek energy spots, follow targets, escape enemies etc. Such experiments are directly connected with real robots' control – they might alone perform useful actions.
Often it is evolution which controls improvements – it awards better-adapted, fit (or, in the case of artificial world, efficient as we want them) organisms. That has to do with genetic algorithms and works the same way. In Nature, organism morphology is determined by genes, and this – together with other mechanisms, like learning – supports evolution and its high efficiency. In our life simulator, similarly, genes describe the whole structure of an organism. Full freedom in building genotypes means theoretically an ability for creation of creatures of any complexity.
Artificial Life research makes us ask whether self-improvement of artificial organisms can lead to founding consciousness, intelligence, feelings? Not in our simple model, of course. However, there is still a question if evolution alone created organisms which live among us. Experiments with simulated evolutions will show their capabilities, and the results of such experimentation can help explain the mystery of our creation.
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