EVOLUTION OF COMPLEXITY - updated for 2010 (co-supervised with Kevin Korb)

This project will explore the possibilities for implementing creative evolution in artificial life software, responding to the challenge by Bedau et al (2000) to reproduce "open-ended evolution". We will begin by examining previous attempts and Bedau's evolutionary activity statistics (Bedau et al 1998) for assessing them. We will develop our own measures of the growth of complexity in
organism structure and behaviour, and apply them to:

  1. The paleontological record,
  2. The results of existing Artificial Life simulations, and
  3. New simulations based on existing work by Yaeger (2006) and the supervisors.

Students are requested to do some preliminary reading (e.g. at least (Levy 1997) and (Bedau et al 2000)) prior to commencing the project. Enrollment in the Honours unit FIT4012 is strongly encouraged as it will provide background material of direct relevance to the topic.


  • Bedau, M.A., et al., Open Problems in Artificial Life. Artificial Life, 2000. 6(4): p. 363-376.
  • Bedau, M.A., E. Snyder, and N.H. Packard. A Classification of Long-Term Evolutionary Dynamics. In Artificial Life VI. 1998: MIT Press: p. 228-237.
  • Levy, S., Artificial Life, the quest for a new creation. 1992, London: Penguin Books. 390
  • Yaeger, L.S., O. Sporns. Evolution of Neural Structure and Complexity in a Computational Ecology. In Artificial Life X. Rocha, L. et al. (eds.) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2006.

The components of many organisms and their secretions consist of what may loosely be labelled "sinewy networks". The junctions in these networks are often gently filleted, creating a web-like mesh of holes and curves that gives the structure a biological feel. The purpose of this project is to devise a technique for automating the process of generating the geometry of these meshes. The software will be parameterized to vary the extent to which the meshes are filletted, allowing them to resemble architectural forms of different kinds, whether they be made by spiders (webs), erosion (rocks hollows and caves), plants (patterns in bark, veins on leaves, tree roots) or people (architectural lattices). The software will also allow automatic generation of the network itself and should allow the user to parameterize the form of the lattice in general terms from completely irregular, through approximately regular, to highly geometric.

Some visual examples of the kinds of structure the project aims to build are given below. (Photographs © Copyright Alan Dorin 2005)

  See also images of the diatoms especially the illustrations by German biologist Ernst Haeckel (1899-1904). (right)



The name Slime Mould doesn't give an organism a very appealing ring to it... but these "creatures" are really fascinating! There are two types of slime moulds: plasmodial slime moulds and cellular slime moulds. This project is interested in the latter. The trait that makes these slimes so amazing is their diverse range of behaviours during a complex life cycle. They have several "phases" within a motile (moving) period that give the mould the appearance of an animal, and an immotile (static) period that gives them the appearance of a plant or fungus.

Individual cells of the mould start their lives scattered around an area. At a chemical signal triggered by starvation, they all coagulate into a single blob. This then becomes a slug called a plasmodium that may be a few inches long. This slug then wanders around seeking nutrients. When it finds a good spot, the slug turns into a reproductive structure called a fruiting body. This is a fungus-like structure with a stalk and a ball on top that produces spores. These spores are then scattered... and the life cycle starts over again.

The purpose of this project is to build an agent-based simulation of the slime mould's life cycle (to some level of abstraction) and to visualise it using computer graphics techniques. The look of the model is important! The aim is to produce an attractive but true-to-life representation of the organism's appearance and behaviour. A movie of the slime mould plasmodium is online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96U-6iU8W_A Some decent illustrations of the various phases of the life cycle are online too: http://universe-review.ca/R10-18-slimemoulds.htm


contact me | home