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Artificial Life

Summer 2018, Vol. 24, No. 3, Pages 157-181
(doi: 10.1162/artl_a_00263)
© 2018 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Emergence of Canalization and Evolvability in an Open-Ended, Interactive Evolutionary System
Article PDF (3.97 MB)
Many believe that an essential component for the discovery of the tremendous diversity in natural organisms was the evolution of evolvability, whereby evolution speeds up its ability to innovate by generating a more adaptive pool of offspring. One hypothesized mechanism for evolvability is developmental canalization, wherein certain dimensions of variation become more likely to be traversed and others are prevented from being explored (e.g., offspring tend to have similar-size legs, and mutations affect the length of both legs, not each leg individually). While ubiquitous in nature, canalization is rarely reported in computational simulations of evolution, which deprives us of in silico examples of canalization to study and raises the question of which conditions give rise to this form of evolvability. Answering this question would shed light on why such evolvability emerged naturally, and it could accelerate engineering efforts to harness evolution to solve important engineering challenges. In this article, we reveal a unique system in which canalization did emerge in computational evolution. We document that genomes entrench certain dimensions of variation that were frequently explored during their evolutionary history. The genetic representation of these organisms also evolved to be more modular and hierarchical than expected by chance, and we show that these organizational properties correlate with increased fitness. Interestingly, the type of computational evolutionary experiment that produced this evolvability was very different from traditional digital evolution in that there was no objective, suggesting that open-ended, divergent evolutionary processes may be necessary for the evolution of evolvability.