Study: Mass extinctions accelerate evolution


    Study: Mass extinctions accelerate evolution

  • 1 Robots evolve faster and better after a virtual mass extinction

    A study done at the University of Texas at Austin found that robots evolve faster and better after a virtual mass extinction. 

  • 2 Virtual mass extinction was modeled after real-life disasters

    Virtual mass extinction was modeled after the mass extinction that killed off dinosaurs.

  • 3 Creativity in adaptaions played a key role

    The virtual mass extinction actually sped up evolution by forcing robots to adapt creatively to new situations.

  • 4 Computer scientists Risto Miikkulainen and Joel Lehman co-authored the study

    This study was published by PLOS One and co-authored by computer scientists Risto Miikkulainen and Joel Lehman.

  • 5 'Focused destruction can lead to surprising outcomes'

    Miikkulainen, one of the co-authors, said, 'Focused destruction can lead to surprising outcomes. Sometimes you have to develop something that seems objectively worse in order to develop the tools you need to get better.' 

  • 6 Real mass extinctions erase a lot of genetic material from the tree of life

    Some evolutionary biologists believe that extinctions accelerate evolution by promoting those lineages that are the most evolvable. A computer simulation proved that it works with robots too.

  • 7 Real evolution inspires computational evolution

    Scientists often use algorithms inspired by real evolution to train simulated robot brains called neural networks. These then improve their task doing from one generation to the next.

  • 8 Simulated robotic legs were taught how to walk better

    In the study, a neural network was connected to simulated robotic legs trying to evolve the robot to walk with harmony and stability.

  • 9 After hundreds of generations, robots evolved different abilities

    In this study, robots evolved different abilities not directly useful for walking after hundreds of generations.

  • 10 90% of robots were wiped off

    After the robots evolved for awhile, virtual mass extinction wiped off 90% of them.

  • 11 Best walking evolved after several cycles of evolution and extinction

    Robots that developed the best walking ability and were the fastest at doing their tasks evolved after several cycles of evolution and extinction. Worse results were found in robots who didn't go through mass extinction events.

  • 12 Practical applications of the research can help robots on the terrain

    The study can help in making better robots that search for survivors after earthquakes, explore Mars, navigate a minefield and so on.