Polyworld: Using Evolution to Design Artificial Intelligence


Google Tech Talks
November, 8 2007


This presentation is about a potential shortcut to artificial intelligence by trading mind-design for world-design using artificial evolution. Evolutionary algorithms are a pump for turning CPU cycles into brain designs. With exponentially increasing CPU cycles while our understanding of intelligence is almost a flat-line, the evolutionary route to AI is a centerpiece of most Kurzweilian singularity scenarios. This talk introduces the Polyworld artificial life simulator as well as results from our ongoing attempt to evolve artificial intelligence and further the Singularity.

Polyworld is the brain child of Apple Computer Distinguished Scientist Larry Yaeger, who remains the primary developer of Polyworld:


Speaker: Virgil Griffith
Virgil Griffith is a first year graduate student in Computation and Neural Systems at the California Institute of Technology. On weekdays he studies evolution, computational neuroscience, and artificial life. He did computer security work until his first year of university when his work got him sued for sedition and espionage. He then decided that security was probably not safest field to be in and he turned his life to science.

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  1. Great to watch – thank you.

    Firstly is there a modern update to this anywhere with updates ? I.e. Where we are now.

    I know this is a very old video so my comments won't really be relevant – but my ideas for development

    * make maximum life span dependent on size , as well as energy storage and maximum brain development , although have a longer gestation period period for spawning – if it's bigger it should live longer, have more capacity for neural links. This would hopefully generate more complex 'critters'.
    * being ten years on the sandbox should be able to be a lot bigger with the option to run two or more separate species – evolution may then create a carnivore species and less likely a cannibal.
    *the only real update to the environment I think that's needed is a day / night cycle – promoting possible dormant night time evolution with food only being spawned during the day. Using this a dark permanent 'cave' environment could be created to see if a subspecies(s) develop in or around that area . (Simple organisms in a half covered Petrie dish).

  2. I have built my own simulation with much more complex adaptive nueral networks, and I would like to visualize the brains the way he visualized them using the connection matrix at 38:10. an explanation on how this type of visualization works would be highly appriciated

  3. Something I would love to see in one of these evolving critters projects people work on is this:

    Food that isn't just worth X amount of energy, but food that has X amount of Stuff A, Y amount of Stuff B, and Z amount of Stuff C… and so on. Then the creature would have organs don't don't require energy to function but require a specific Stuff to work right. The specific Stuff any given organ would need to work right would be based on it's genetics, and what the organs do would again be based on the genetics. Each creature would have also a max amount of stuff it could hold in it's body at any given time.

    So you could then start having organs that develop that do things like, using a bit of Stuff A as energy convert any Stuff B you have in your body into Stuff C. Or another organ that says, using a bit of Stuff C as energy expel from your body some of the Stuff C you are currently holding.

    Depending on how it was done you might get complex things emerging like: When I'm ready to breed start expelling Stuff A and B from my body to attract a mate, and look for Stuff C while mating because it just so happens that there is another type of creature that evolved along side me that when it's ready to mate expels C from its body when it is ready to mate.

    You might also have creatures that develop "toxins" as well. What I mean is that your world might have only Stuff A, B, and C in it naturally but this creature might develop an organ that converts a bit of stuff C into stuff D. Nothing has yet developed an organ though that can do anything with stuff D though, so when some random creature comes over and eats the creature that has built up a bit of stuff D… now this random creature has stuff D filling up it's stomach and has no organ to convert D into a useful Stuff and nor does it have an organ that can expel it, so this random creature effectively now has a smaller stomach for eating the foods it wants to eat.

  4. God, you could do so much with this system he has created. Another point I would make is this… If the virtual creatures discovered an exploit inside their environment, then who is to say that actually biology hasn't found exceptions to physics that we are not aware of? Such as ghosts? Could consciousness/biology even found a way to survive death of the body?

  5. 5:03 Compters are hard. Especially Macs.
    31:34 It took a lot to figure out that reproduction is naturally not for free and that individuals might misuse a system where they get free stuff? Like "Communism doesn't work" was hard to figure out? That's what you get when you hire a millenial, I guess.
    54:04 At least he's taking responsibility. So when the day comes and AI eradicates humanity: this guy will take the blame. Just sue him.

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