Evolvability signatures of generative encodings: beyond standard performance benchmarks

Abstract : Evolutionary robotics is a promising approach to autonomously synthesize machines with abilities that resemble those of animals, but the field suffers from a lack of strong foundations. In particular, evolutionary systems are currently assessed solely by the fitness score their evolved artifacts can achieve for a specific task, whereas such fitness-based comparisons provide limited insights about how the same system would evaluate on different tasks, and its adaptive capabilities to respond to changes in fitness (e.g., from damages to the machine, or in new situations). To counter these limitations, we introduce the concept of " evolvability signatures " , which picture the post-mutation statistical distribution of both behavior diversity (how different are the robot behaviors after a mutation?) and fitness values (how different is the fitness after a mutation?). We tested the relevance of this concept by evolving controllers for hexapod robot locomotion using five different genotype-to-phenotype mappings (direct encoding , generative encoding of open-loop and closed-loop central pattern generators, generative encoding of neural networks, and single-unit pattern generators (SUPG)). We observed a predictive relationship between the evolvability signature of each encoding and the number of generations required by hexapods to adapt from incurred damages. Our study also reveals that, across the five investigated encodings, the SUPG scheme achieved the best evolvability signature, and was always foremost in recovering an effective gait following robot damages. Overall , our evolvability signatures neatly complement existing task-performance benchmarks, and pave the way for stronger foundations for research in evolutionary robotics.
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Danesh Tarapore, Jean-Baptiste Mouret. Evolvability signatures of generative encodings: beyond standard performance benchmarks. Information Sciences, Elsevier, 2015, 313, pp.43-61. ⟨10.1016/j.ins.2015.03.046⟩. ⟨hal-01136711⟩

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