UTCS Colloquia/AI - Charles Ofria, "The Evolution of Division of Labor and Specialization in Digital Organisms"

Contact Name: 
Karl Pichotta
GDC 6.302
Apr 16, 2014 3:00pm - 4:00pm

Signup Schedule: https://apps.cs.utexas.edu/talkschedules/cgi/list_events.cgi

Speaker: Charles Ofria/Michigan State University

UTCS Host: Risto Miikkulainen

Audience: UTCS Faculty, Graduate Students & Undergraduate Students, Outside Interested Parties

Abstract: Many species of organisms succeed by forming groups and dividing important tasks among specialized members of those groups. The evolution of such division of labor strategies, and particularly reproductive division of labor, is a hallmark of major transitions in evolution. Additionally, understanding these evolutionary strategies holds promise for developing new algorithmic techniques for distributed computation. Studying how division of labor first arises in nature is challenging due to the huge timescales it takes for the process to play out. To overcome these challenges, we use populations of digital organisms that evolve in a natural and open-ended fashion. In this talk, I will describe how overhead costs associated with task-switching drive the evolution of highly collaborative strategies. Further, if there are negative repercussions for individuals who perform certain types of tasks (such as metabolic slowdowns or damage to their genomes) can find ways to balance these effects across the organisms or even make use of reproductive division of labor wherein some individuals sacrifice their own success for the good of the group. This latter strategy is akin to developmental patterns in multi-cellular organisms where most cells (called somatic cells) sacrifice their individual reproductive potential for the good of the group, while others (germ cells) protect their genetic material for use in founding future groups. I will also show that the evolution of somatic cells enables phenotypic strategies that are otherwise not easily accessible to undifferentiated organisms, though expression of these new phenotypic traits typically includes negative side effects such as aging.

Bio: Dr. Charles Ofria is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Michigan State University and is the deputy director of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a multi-university NSF Science and Technology Center. His research lies at the intersection of Computer Science and Evolutionary Biology, developing a two-way flow of ideas between the fields. He received a bachelor‚s degree in 1994 from SUNY Stony Brook with a triple major in Pure Math, Applied Math, and Computer Science. In 1999, he received a Ph.D. in Computation and Neural Systems from the California Institute of Technology, followed by a three-year postdoc in the Center for Microbial Ecology at MSU. Dr. Ofria is the architect of the Avida Digital Evolution Research Platform, which is downloaded over a thousand times per month for use in research and education at dozens of universities around the world.