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Journal Articles Artificial Life Year : 2020

The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities

1 Uber AI Labs
2 UW - University of Wyoming
3 CRI - Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires [Paris]
4 Michigan State University [East Lansing]
5 LVSN - Laboratoire de Vision et Systèmes Numériques
6 UCL - University College of London [London]
7 ICJ - Institut Camille Jordan
8 MMCS - Modélisation mathématique, calcul scientifique
9 BEAGLE - Artificial Evolution and Computational Biology
10 LIRIS - Laboratoire d'InfoRmatique en Image et Systèmes d'information
11 Imperial College London
12 ISIR - Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique
13 UiO - University of Oslo
14 BTH - Blekinge Institute of Technology [Karlskrona]
15 The University of New Mexico [Albuquerque]
16 TIMC-IMAG-BCM - Biologie Computationnelle et Mathématique
17 SUNY - State University of New York
18 sentient technologies [San Francisco]
19 UNIL - Université de Lausanne = University of Lausanne
20 UK - Univerzita Karlova [Praha, Česká republika] = Charles University [Prague, Czech Republic]
21 Columbia University [New York]
22 University of Colorado [Boulder]
23 Department of Fundamental Microbiology [Lausanne]
24 Apple Inc
25 LARSEN - Lifelong Autonomy and interaction skills for Robots in a Sensing ENvironment
26 NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology [Trondheim]
27 ULaval - Université Laval [Québec]
28 SED [Grenoble] - Service Expérimentation et Développement
29 OU - University of Oklahoma
30 TAU - TAckling the Underspecified
31 MIT - Department of Applied Mathematics
32 UCF - University of Central Florida [Orlando]
33 University of Southampton
34 University of Virginia
Joel Lehman
  • Function : Author
Jeff Clune
  • Function : Author
  • PersonId : 965457
Fred C. Dyer
David E. Moriarty
  • Function : Author
Marc Parizeau
  • Function : Author
  • PersonId : 831843
Marc Schoenauer
Danesh Tarapore
  • Function : Author
  • PersonId : 980995
Simon Thibault
Westley Weimer
  • Function : Author
  • PersonId : 959615
Jason Yosinksi
  • Function : Author


Evolution provides a creative fount of complex and subtle adaptations that often surprise the scientists who discover them. However, the creativity of evolution is not limited to the natural world: artificial organisms evolving in computational environments have also elicited surprise and wonder from the researchers studying them. The process of evolution is an algorithmic process that transcends the substrate in which it occurs. Indeed, many researchers in the field of digital evolution can provide examples of how their evolving algorithms and organisms have creatively subverted their expectations or intentions, exposed unrecognized bugs in their code, produced unexpectedly adaptations, or engaged in behaviors and outcomes uncannily convergent with ones found in nature. Such stories routinely reveal surprise and creativity by evolution in these digital worlds, but they rarely fit into the standard scientific narrative. Instead they are often treated as mere obstacles to be overcome, rather than results that warrant study in their own right. Bugs are fixed, experiments are refocused, and one-off surprises are collapsed into a single data point. The stories themselves are traded among researchers through oral tradition, but that mode of information transmission is inefficient and prone to error and outright loss. Moreover, the fact that these stories tend to be shared only among practitioners means that many natural scientists do not realize how interesting and lifelike digital organisms are and how natural their evolution can be. To our knowledge, no collection of such anecdotes has been published before. This paper is the crowd-sourced product of researchers in the fields of artificial life and evolutionary computation who have provided first-hand accounts of such cases. It thus serves as a written, fact-checked collection of scientifically important and even entertaining stories. In doing so we also present here substantial evidence that the existence and importance of evolutionary surprises extends beyond the natural world, and may indeed be a universal property of all complex evolving systems.
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Dates and versions

hal-01735473 , version 1 (12-12-2023)



Joel Lehman, Jeff Clune, Dusan Misevic, Christoph Adami, Julie Beaulieu, et al.. The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities. Artificial Life, 2020, 26 (2), pp.274-306. ⟨10.1162/artl_a_00319⟩. ⟨hal-01735473⟩
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