Thursday, April 28, 2011

Humanity is executing an evolutionary algorithm

One interesting aspect of humans is that they very strongly tend to copy the behavior of famous and admired individuals, a behavior that can also be found for our close relatives, the chimpanzees.
Actually, most of our behavior is based on previous experience and 'aping' others. There are actual very few situations where we use a pure deductive approach to solve a task. Wanna kick a curve ball? You can go for the deductive approach, but you will end up in a complicated physical air flow model. Better watch the neighbor’s boy doing it, and copy the movement.
The reason for this is that we live in a complex world, where the deductive approach usually fails because we cannot build accurate models. You want to start a business on the main street of your town? You would most likely fail trying to build an accurate economic model of your customers without taking into account the experience of people who already had a similar business in a comparable situation.
This leads us to two conclusions:
(i) Looking at whole humanity, we can see that they are executing an evolutionary algorithm, where behavior is inherited from successful individuals and modified to test new hypotheses or to adapt to new situations
(ii) Our intellectual abilities are mainly used to estimate effects of some moderate parameter changes - in evolutionary algorithms, this approach is known of modeling an approximation of the fitness landscape to reduce the number of erroneous trials
So, next time you are at a zoo, don't be too proud of your intellectual abilities - the main mechanism that lets humanity survive in a complex world is copying behavior as part of a giant evolutionary algorithm!

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