Engineers Solve a Biological Mystery and Boost Artificial Intelligence

By simulating 25,000 generations of evolution within computers, Cornell University engineering and robotics researchers have discovered why biological networks tend to be organized as modules -- a finding that will lead to a deeper understanding of the evolution of complexity.

The new insight also will help evolve artificial intelligence, so robot brains can acquire the grace and cunning of animals. From brains to gene regulatory networks, many biological entities are organized into modules -- dense clusters of interconnected parts within a complex network.

The team discovered that evolution produces modules not because they produce more adaptable designs, but because modular designs have fewer and shorter network connections, which are costly to build and maintain. As it turned out, it was enough to include a "cost of wiring" to make evolution favor modular architectures.

"Once you add a cost for network connections, modules immediately appear. Without a cost, modules never form. The effect is quite dramatic," says Clune. [emphasis mine]

Conceptual illustration of a computer chip functioning as a brain.

Tags: modular architecture

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