genetic algorithms, modularity, search spaces, evolutionary computation, representations


We are continuously challenged by ever increasing problem complexity and the need to develop algorithms that can solve complex problems and solve them within a reasonable amount of time. Modularity is thought to reduce problem complexity by decomposing large problems into smaller and less complex subproblems. In practice, introducing modularity into evolutionary algorithm representations appears to improve search performance; however, how and why modularity improves performance is not well understood. In this thesis, we seek to better understand the effects of modularity on search. In particular, what are the effects of module creation on the search space structure and how do these structural changes affect performance? We define a theoretical and empirical framework to study modularity in evolutionary algorithms. Using this framework, we provide evidence of the following. First, not all types of modularity have an effect on search. We can have highly modular spaces that in essence are equivalent to simpler non-modular spaces. This is the case, because these spaces achieve higher degree of modularity without changing the fundamental structure of the search space. Second, for the cases when modularity actually has an effect on the fundamental structure of the search space, if left without guidance, it would only crowd and complicate the space structure resulting in a harder space for most search algorithms. Finally, we have the case when modularity not only has an effect in the search space structure, but most importantly, module creation can be guided by problem domain knowledge. When this knowledge can be used to estimate the value of a module in terms of its contribution toward building the solution, then modularity is extremely effective. It is in this last case that creating high value modules or low value modules has a direct and decisive impact on performance. The results presented in this thesis help to better understand, in a principled way, the effects of modularity on search. Better understanding the effects of modularity on search is a step forward in the larger issue of evolutionary search applied to increasingly complex problems.


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Graduation Date



Wu, Annie


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Degree Program

Computer Science








Release Date

December 2008

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)