The hiatus between organism and machine evolution: Contrasting mixed microbial communities with robots.

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Bio Systems


washington; isb; Affordance; Artificial evolution; Evolution; Mixed microbial communities; Robots; Universal turing machines


Mixed microbial communities, usually composed of various bacterial and fungal species, are fundamental in a plethora of environments, from soil to human gut and skin. Their evolution is a paradigmatic example of intertwined dynamics, where not just the relations among species plays a role, but also the opportunities - and possible harms - that each species presents to the others. These opportunities are in fact affordances, which can be seized by heritable variations and selection. In this paper, starting from a systemic viewpoint of mixed microbial communities, we focus on the pivotal role of affordances in evolution and we contrast it to the artificial evolution of programs and robots. We maintain that the two realms are neatly separated, in that natural evolution proceeds by extending the space of its possibilities in a completely open way, while the latter is inherently limited by the algorithmic framework in which it is defined. This discrepancy characterizes also an envisioned setting in which robots evolve in the physical world. We present arguments supporting our claim and we propose an experimental setting for assessing our statements. Rather than just discussing the limitations of the artificial evolution of machines, the aim of this contribution is to emphasize the tremendous potential of the evolution of the biosphere, beautifully represented by the evolution of communities of microbes.


Institute for Systems Biology