Abstract: Organisms result from adaptive processes interacting across different time scales. One such interaction is that between development and evolution. Models have shown that development sweeps over several traits in a single agent, sometimes exposing promising static traits. Subsequent evolution can then canalize these rare traits. Thus, development can, under the right conditions, increase evolvability. Here, we report on a previously unknown phenomenon when embodied agents are allowed to develop and evolve: Evolution discovers body plans robust to control changes, these body plans become genetically assimilated, yet controllers for these agents are not assimilated. This allows evolution to continue climbing fitness gradients by tinkering with the developmental programs for controllers within these permissive body plans. This exposes a previously unknown detail about the Baldwin effect: instead of all useful traits becoming genetically assimilated, only traits that render the agent robust to changes in other traits become assimilated. We refer to this as differential canalization. This finding also has implications for the evolutionary design of artificial and embodied agents such as robots: robots robust to internal changes in their controllers may also be robust to external changes in their environment, such as transferal from simulation to reality or deployment in novel environments.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).