Self-organization of brain areas in animals begins prenatally, evidently driven by spontaneously generated internal patterns. The neural structures continue to develop postnatally when the sensory systems are exposed to stimuli from the environment. In this process, prenatal training may give the neural system the appropriate bias so that it can learn reliably under changing environmental stimuli. This paper evaluates the hypothesis that an artificial learning system can benefit from a similar approach, consisting of initial training with patterns from an evolved generator followed by training with the actual training set. Competitive learning networks were trained in recognizing handwritten digits in three ways: through environmental learning only, through evolution only, and through prenatal training with evolved pattern generators followed by environmental learning. The results demonstrate that the evolved pattern generator approach leads to better learning performance, suggesting that complex systems can be constructed effectively in this way.
[ Winner of the GECCO-2005 Best Paper Award in Evolutionary Robotics, A-Life, and Adaptive Behavior ]