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Artificial Life

Winter 2020, Vol. 26, No. 1, Pages 112-129
(doi: 10.1162/artl_a_00309)
© 2020 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Evolution Towards Criticality in Ising Neural Agents
Article PDF (1.28 MB)

Criticality is thought to be crucial for complex systems to adapt at the boundary between regimes with different dynamics, where the system may transition from one phase to another. Numerous systems, from sandpiles to gene regulatory networks to swarms to human brains, seem to work towards preserving a precarious balance right at their critical point. Understanding criticality therefore seems strongly related to a broad, fundamental theory for the physics of life as it could be, which still lacks a clear description of how life can arise and maintain itself in complex systems. In order to investigate this crucial question, we model populations of Ising agents competing for resources in a simple 2D environment subject to an evolutionary algorithm. We then compare its evolutionary dynamics under different experimental conditions. We demonstrate the utility that arises at a critical state and contrast it with the behaviors and dynamics that arise far from criticality. The results show compelling evidence that not only is a critical state remarkable in its ability to adapt and find solutions to the environment, but the evolving parameters in the agents tend to flow towards criticality if starting from a supercritical regime. We present simulations showing that a system in a supercritical state will tend to self-organize towards criticality, in contrast to a subcritical state, which remains subcritical though it is still capable of adapting and increasing its fitness.