Evolutionary computation, evolutionary algorithms, interactive evolutionary computation, neuroevolution, neuroevolution of augmenting topologies, neat, hypercube based neuroevolution of augmenting topologies, hyperneat, artificial intelligence, non objective search, deception, novelty search, novelty assisted interactive evolutionary computation, na iec


The field of evolutionary computation is inspired by the achievements of natural evolution, in which there is no final objective. Yet the pursuit of objectives is ubiquitous in simulated evolution because evolutionary algorithms that can consistently achieve established benchmarks are lauded as successful, thus reinforcing this paradigm. A significant problem is that such objective approaches assume that intermediate stepping stones will increasingly resemble the final objective when in fact they often do not. The consequence is that while solutions may exist, searching for such objectives may not discover them. This problem with objectives is demonstrated through an experiment in this dissertation that compares how images discovered serendipitously during interactive evolution in an online system called Picbreeder cannot be rediscovered when they become the final objective of the very same algorithm that originally evolved them. This negative result demonstrates that pursuing an objective limits evolution by selecting offspring only based on the final objective. Furthermore, even when high fitness is achieved, the experimental results suggest that the resulting solutions are typically brittle, piecewise representations that only perform well by exploiting idiosyncratic features in the target. In response to this problem, the dissertation next highlights the importance of leveraging human insight during search as an alternative to articulating explicit objectives. In particular, a new approach called novelty-assisted interactive evolutionary computation (NA-IEC) combines human intuition with a method called novelty search for the first time to facilitate the serendipitous discovery of agent behaviors. iii In this approach, the human user directs evolution by selecting what is interesting from the on-screen population of behaviors. However, unlike in typical IEC, the user can then request that the next generation be filled with novel descendants, as opposed to only the direct descendants of typical IEC. The result of such an approach, unconstrained by a priori objectives, is that it traverses key stepping stones that ultimately accumulate meaningful domain knowledge. To establishes this new evolutionary approach based on the serendipitous discovery of key stepping stones during evolution, this dissertation consists of four key contributions: (1) The first contribution establishes the deleterious effects of a priori objectives on evolution. The second (2) introduces the NA-IEC approach as an alternative to traditional objective-based approaches. The third (3) is a proof-of-concept that demonstrates how combining human insight with novelty search finds solutions significantly faster and at lower genomic complexities than fully-automated processes, including pure novelty search, suggesting an important role for human users in the search for solutions. Finally, (4) the NA-IEC approach is applied in a challenge domain wherein leveraging human intuition and domain knowledge accelerates the evolution of solutions for the nontrivial octopus-arm control task. The culmination of these contributions demonstrates the importance of incorporating human insights into simulated evolution as a means to discovering better solutions more rapidly than traditional approaches.


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Graduation Date





Stanley, Kenneth


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Electrical Engineering and Computing

Degree Program

Computer Engineering








Release Date

August 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science,Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic