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Evolutionary Computation

Spring 2020, Vol. 28, No. 1, Pages 115-140
(doi: 10.1162/evco_a_00250)
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Guiding Neuroevolution with Structural Objectives
Article PDF (2.1 MB)
The structure and performance of neural networks are intimately connected, and by use of evolutionary algorithms, neural network structures optimally adapted to a given task can be explored. Guiding such neuroevolution with additional objectives related to network structure has been shown to improve performance in some cases, especially when modular neural networks are beneficial. However, apart from objectives aiming to make networks more modular, such structural objectives have not been widely explored. We propose two new structural objectives and test their ability to guide evolving neural networks on two problems which can benefit from decomposition into subtasks. The first structural objective guides evolution to align neural networks with a user-recommended decomposition pattern. Intuitively, this should be a powerful guiding target for problems where human users can easily identify a structure. The second structural objective guides evolution towards a population with a high diversity in decomposition patterns. This results in exploration of many different ways to decompose a problem, allowing evolution to find good decompositions faster. Tests on our target problems reveal that both methods perform well on a problem with a very clear and decomposable structure. However, on a problem where the optimal decomposition is less obvious, the structural diversity objective is found to outcompete other structural objectives—and this technique can even increase performance on problems without any decomposable structure at all.