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Studying Evolution with Self-Replicating Computer Programs

Tim Taylor, John Hallam

A critical discussion is presented on the use of self-replicating program systems as tools for the formulation of generalised theories of evolution. Results generated by such systems must be treated with caution, but, if used properly, they can offer us unprecedented opportunities for empirical, comparative studies. A new system called Cosmos is introduced, which is based upon Ray’s Tierra. The major dfference between Cosmos and previous systems is that individual selfreplicating programs in Cosmos are modelled (in a very simplified fashion) on cellular organisms. Previous systems have generally used simpler self-replicators. The hope is that Cosmos may be better able to address questions concerning the sudden emergence of complex multicellular biological organisms during the Cambrian explosion. Results of initial exploratory runs are presented, which are somewhat different to those of similar runs on Tierra. These differences were expected, and indicate the sensitivity of such systems to the precise details of the language in which the self-replicating programs are written. With the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology in mind, some directions for future research with Cosmos are discussed.

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Taylor, T., & Hallam, J. (1997). Studying Evolution with Self-Replicating Computer Programs. In P. Husbands & I. Harvey (Eds.), Fourth European Conference on Artificial Life (pp. 550–559). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


  title = {Studying Evolution with Self-Replicating Computer Programs},
  author = {Taylor, Tim and Hallam, John},
  pages = {550--559},
  booktitle = {Fourth European Conference on Artificial Life},
  editor = {Husbands, Phil and Harvey, Inman},
  publisher = {MIT Press},
  address = {Cambridge, MA},
  isbn = {0262581574},
  year = {1997},
  category = {conference},
  keywords = {cosmos, selfrep}

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