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Complex Systems Seminar Series Presents: "Artificial Life, Open-Ended Evolution, and the Origins of Biological Complexity"

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
12:00 AM

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 as they evolve new, complex traits in environments where they must perform mathematical functions to metabolize resources into additional CPU cycles.  I will illustrate the accumulation of information that is ultimately used to encode target complex traits, and demonstrate that most of that information was already in the genome as part of simpler evolved traits.  In the natural world, of course, many other factors are at play promoting diversity and complexity.  I will explore how ecological interactions promote more rapid complexity growth (including co-evolution and competition for multiple limited resources), and explain 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 multi-university 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.  

Charles Ofria, Professor Computer Science & Engineering, Michigan State University