Neuroevolution: Is the Impossible becoming Reality?

December 30, 2017 by Se Mi Park

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In modern times, the environment portrayed in science fiction from the 20th century no longer holds extreme deviation from reality. Technology is advancing at an alarming rate, and the world is becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea of intellectual technology, better known as artificial intelligence (AI).

Just as its name suggests, artificial intelligence refers to machines that demonstrate a certain level of wit, such as cell phones that can respond to human voices. AI is a theory that is already being injected into mass-produced products and is thus embraced by the general population with some degree of familiarity. What most people do not realize, however, is that there is another similar technological advancement that is currently in the development process: neuroevolution.

So what exactly is neuroevolution?

As one can infer from the use of the prefix “neuro”, which refers to the study of nervous systems in living organisms, the concept of neuroevolution is largely based off of how the human nervous system works with the human brain to conduct analyses that help carry out smarter actions. Neuroevolution refers to a branch of computer science where algorithms create their succeeding algorithms based off of the results of their previous algorithms. In simpler words, neuroevolution is a technology where non-living machinery can develop its own conclusions through a thinking process - similar to how humans develop opinions from a compilation of experiences and personal thought. The perfection of such a concept would definitely be a huge step forward in modern technology, but how would this change the world that we live in? Would this technological progression be responsible for an advancement or a regression in society?

Neuroevolution could definitely be a positive indication in many fields. For example, one can take the manufacturing field into consideration. A compilation of neuroevolution and machines in a manufacturing plant would result in factory machines that can make their own judgments. How could this elevate the manufacturing process? Let us imagine that we own a company that mass-produces french fries. The company would then need to sort the “good” potato from the “no-good” potato. The closest that a modern-day machine would get to achieving this process would by programming specific guidelines. For instance, one could set a machine to classify a potato as “no-good” if more than 40% of the potato portrays a color that is darker than a certain designated shade. However, this sort of machine is not really put to practice because it creates so much room for error: What if the potato itself just happens to be darker than an average potato? There is no way to confirm that the sorted potatoes are actually damaged to the point of being unusable. Thus, such processes are normally conducted by humans or entirely overlooked. In contrast, a machine that integrates neuroevolution would be able to determine the quality of a potato, similar to how a human would make the same decision upon observation. Integrating such a machine into the manufacturing process could potentially allow select companies to use fresher produce or more wholesome material. The same is true for other fields as well - creating machines that can make decisions can be used to accelerate or simplify almost any process.

The problem is that neuroevolution has many apparent downsides as well. As one can see from the potato example, neuroevolutionized machines have the capabilities of replacing humans in areas that even AI could not replace. Technology becomes an alarmingly huge step closer to developing robots that can think just like humans. Neuroevolution means that machines would be able to determine on their own who to trust and what kind of actions they should do for their own benefit, in addition to coming up with specific reasons why. The movie I, Robot depicts a world where it is standard for humans to use robots to perform their everyday chores and “busy work.” These robots develop the thought that they can overtake the role of humans. Society thus becomes strikingly close to being overrun by the technology it creates. Such arguably mainstream science fiction plots have often been deemed as exaggerated by the general public. However, neuroevolution indicates that these plots may not be so hyperbolized after all. On a less-extreme side note, neuroevolution could also potentially worsen unemployment rates as machines become more capable than ever of replacing human labor.

What are some ways that neuroevolution can be put to great practice? What are some ways that it can lead to a depressing societal lapse? Should there be boundaries limiting how far technology should be allowed to advance?

What are your thoughts?

Do answers exist?

The UIC Scribe was founded in 2006 as the official student-run newsmagazine of Underwood International College. It celebrates diversity of thinking, excellence in writing, and the freedom of self-expression.

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