"Evolution as computation" by Prof John Mayfield

Past Event

18 July 2014, 4:30pm - 6:00pm

INET Oxford Lecture Theatre
Eagle House, Walton Well Road, Oxford, OX2 6ED

This seminar is hosted by The Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School

Speaker: Professor John Mayfield, Professor emeritus, Iowa State University Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology

Abstract: It has long been recognised that evolutionary processes can be simulated on computers. I argue for more that the fundamental process defining evolution is a computation. In this way of thinking, biological evolution, genetic algorithms, and engine behind technological advancement are all special cases of the same computational strategy; I call it the “engine of complexity”. Accepting this viewpoint causes one to focus on the accumulation of purposeful information as the hallmark of evolutionary processes. In many cases, this accumulated information is in the form of “instructions”. Instructions embody purposeful information organised in such a way as to enable the creation of something that would otherwise be hopelessly improbable. Most complexities we encounter on Earth fall into this category. Some examples of instructions are cellular DNA, computer algorithms, blueprints, kitchen recipes, and corporate business plans. I will argue that human learning and creativity depend on purposeful information and that the only known way for that information to be assembled is by means of engine of complexity type computations occurring in the brain.