Artificial Life Breeds Surprising Duh Moments for Its Programmers

A group of computer programmers collected a bunch of real-life stories about surprising things that happened while they were trying to create “artificial life.” Their story collection is:

The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities,” Joel Lehman, Jeff Clune, Dusan Misevic, Christoph Adami, Julie Beaulieu, et al., arXiv:1803.03453v2 [cs.NE], March 29, 2018. (Thanks to Sune Mølgaard for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report:

The process of evolution is an algorithmic process that transcends the substrate in which it occurs. Indeed, many researchers in the field of digital evolution can provide examples of how their evolving algorithms and organisms have creatively subverted their expectations or intentions, exposed unrecognized bugs in their code, produced unexpectedly adaptations, or engaged in behaviors and outcomes uncannily convergent with ones found in nature…. This paper is the crowd-sourced product of researchers in the fields of artificial life and evolutionary computation who have provided first-hand accounts of such cases….

For example, players of NERO are encouraged to place walls around their evolving robots to help them learn to navigate around obstacles. However, somehow evolution figured out how to do something that should have been impossible: the robotic operatives consistently evolved a special kind of ‘wiggle’ that literally causes them to walk up the walls, allowing them to ignore obstacles entirely, and undermining the intent of the game. The NERO team had to plug this loophole, which is apparently a little-known bug in the Torque gaming engine, after which the robots acquiesced to the more respectful policy of politely walking around walls to get to the other side.