Field of Science

Keller shows robots evolving altruism - Nowak dismisses simulations

ResearchBlogging.orgAs also reported on Panda's Thumb, Laurent Keller's group have evolved robot behavior in a computer (report in Science). The robots were given the ability to share food with each other, and more related groups quickly evolved altruism, sharing food with other robots they were related to. Classical and unsurprising, at least given our theoretical understanding of the evolution of altruism.

However, Martin Nowak, champion of the anti-kin-selection view, in a stunning feat of denial, dismisses the result because they are mere robots.
But Harvard University theortician Martin Nowak is more cautious about drawing conclusions based on computer simulations. Virtual robots are not a stand in for real life, he says. "[The work] tells us nothing about whether Hamilton's rule makes a correct prediction for actual biological systems," he says.
If you don't think that's ironic, then you don't know much about Nowak's work. Nowak mainly uses mathematics to make inference and draw conclusions about "actual biological systems". In my book, robots that actual do stuff seems much closer to biology than equations.

That being said, as I've previously noted, I am personally agnostic about the role of kin-selection in group selection.
altruism quickly evolved in the simulation, with greater food-sharing in groups where robots were more related, the researchers report online today in PLoS Biology.
Yes, but the fact that individuals groups that are more altruistic are related begs the question of causality. Did altruism evolve because they were related, or did groups of related individuals evolve because they were altruistic? In a situation like the one by Keller's group, these two scenarios may be inseparable. Is there another way to test what comes first, altruism or relatedness? Or rather, can we get altruism in groups of no relatedness?

Check out some other cool robots.

Waibel, M., Floreano, D., & Keller, L. (2011). A Quantitative Test of Hamilton's Rule for the Evolution of Altruism PLoS Biology, 9 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000615

No comments:

Post a Comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS