The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2020

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 article 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.


evolutionary computation


genetic algorithms

experimental evolution

digital evolution


Joel Lehman

Uber Technology

Jeff Clune


Uber Technology

Dusan Misevic

Université Paris Descartes

Christoph Adami

Michigan State University

Lee Altenberg

University of Hawaii

Julie Beaulieu

Universite Laval

Peter J. Bentley

University College London (UCL)

Samuel Bernard

Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)

Guillaume Beslon

Université de Lyon

David M. Bryson

Michigan State University

Nick Cheney

University of Vermont

Patryk Chrabaszcz

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Antoine Cully

Imperial College London

Stephane Doncieux

Observatoire de Paris

Fred C. Dyer

Michigan State University

Kai Olav Ellefsen

Universitetet i Oslo

Robert Feldt

Chalmers, Data- och informationsteknik, Software Engineering

Stephan Fischer

Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA)

Stephanie Forrest

Arizona State University

Antoine Frenoy

Université Grenoble Alpes

Christian Gagn

Universite Laval

Leni Le Goff

Observatoire de Paris

Laura M. Grabowski

SUNY Potsdam

Babak Hodjat


Frank Hutter

University of Vermont

Laurent Keller

Université de Lausanne

Carole Knibbe

Université de Lyon

Peter Krcah

Univerzita Karlova

Richard E. Lenski

Michigan State University

Hod Lipson

Columbia University

Robert MacCurdy

University of Colorado at Boulder

Carlos Maestre

Observatoire de Paris

Risto Miikkulainen

The University of Texas at Austin

Sara Mitri

Université de Lausanne

David E. Moriarty


Jean-Baptiste Mouret

Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA)

Anh Nguyen

Auburn University

Charles Ofria

Michigan State University

Marc Parizeau

Universite Laval

David Parsons

Michigan State University

Robert T. Pennock

Michigan State University

William F. Punch

Michigan State University

Thomas S. Ray

University of Oklahoma

Marc Schoenauer

Université Paris-Saclay

Eric Shulte


Karl Sims

Uber Technology

Kenneth O. Stanley

University of Central Florida

Francois Taddei

Université Paris Descartes

Danesh Tarapore

University of Southampton

Simon Thibault

Universite Laval

Richard Watson

University of Southampton

Westley Weimer

University of Virginia

Jason Yosinski

Uber Technology

Artificial Life

1064-5462 (ISSN) 1530-9185 (eISSN)

Vol. 26 2 274-306


Systemvetenskap, informationssystem och informatik med samhällsvetenskaplig inriktning

Datavetenskap (datalogi)





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