Two hundred years ago yesterday Charles Darwin was born. It was the midst of the Industrial Revolution, and machines had just begun to replace human labor. Darwin had some formal medical education and a good bit of informal scientific education. He also had an imagination powerful enough to envision the links between geological time and biological variation.
Darwin hypothesized about biological vehicles for introducing variation in living organisms–he called these "gemmules"–but neither he nor anyone else in his generation had knowledge of genes. He would have found remarkable the mathematical processes that emulate biological processes. I am thinking, of course, of genetic algorithms and neural networks. And I think he would have found it fascinating that our use of these mathematical stand-ins has progressed to the point where robotics–the latest, most sophisticated example of machines taking over for human labor–is an everyday occurrence.
But I bet Darwin would have been blown away by by last week’s announcement of a robot that "evolves." Engineers at Robert Gordon University (UK) have combined neural network technology, like those used to analyze CRM data, with evolutionary algorithms, like the ones used for genetic algorithm optimization, to create a robot that has a "brain" that gradually "evolves" an optimal system to control the robots movements. The result is a ever more smoothly running robot. In other words, this machine is now taking over the human work of improving itself.
Okay, Charlie, where do we go from here?