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Evolutionary Computation

Fall 2016, Vol. 24, No. 3, Pages 545-572
(doi: 10.1162/EVCO_a_00189)
© 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Understanding Innovation Engines: Automated Creativity and Improved Stochastic Optimization via Deep Learning
Article PDF (2.79 MB)
Abstract

The Achilles Heel of stochastic optimization algorithms is getting trapped on local optima. Novelty Search mitigates this problem by encouraging exploration in all interesting directions by replacing the performance objective with a reward for novel behaviors. This reward for novel behaviors has traditionally required a human-crafted, behavioral distance function. While Novelty Search is a major conceptual breakthrough and outperforms traditional stochastic optimization on certain problems, it is not clear how to apply it to challenging, high-dimensional problems where specifying a useful behavioral distance function is difficult. For example, in the space of images, how do you encourage novelty to produce hawks and heroes instead of endless pixel static? Here we propose a new algorithm, the Innovation Engine, that builds on Novelty Search by replacing the human-crafted behavioral distance with a Deep Neural Network (DNN) that can recognize interesting differences between phenotypes. The key insight is that DNNs can recognize similarities and differences between phenotypes at an abstract level, wherein novelty means interesting novelty. For example, a DNN-based novelty search in the image space does not explore in the low-level pixel space, but instead creates a pressure to create new types of images (e.g., churches, mosques, obelisks, etc.). Here, we describe the long-term vision for the Innovation Engine algorithm, which involves many technical challenges that remain to be solved. We then implement a simplified version of the algorithm that enables us to explore some of the algorithm’s key motivations. Our initial results, in the domain of images, suggest that Innovation Engines could ultimately automate the production of endless streams of interesting solutions in any domain: for example, producing intelligent software, robot controllers, optimized physical components, and art.