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CitationValiant, Leslie G. 2009. Evolvability. Journal of the ACM 56(1): article no. 3.
AbstractLiving organisms function in accordance with complex mechanisms that operate in different ways depending on conditions. Darwin's theory of evolution suggests that such mechanisms evolved through variation guided by natural selection. However, there has existed no theory that would explain quantitatively which mechanisms can so evolve in realistic population sizes within realistic time periods, and which are too complex. In this article, we suggest such a theory. We treat Darwinian evolution as a form of computational learning from examples in which the course of learning is influenced only by the aggregate fitness of the hypotheses on the examples, and not otherwise by specific examples. We formulate a notion of evolvability that distinguishes function classes that are evolvable with polynomially bounded resources from those that are not. We show that in a single stage of evolution monotone Boolean conjunctions and disjunctions are evolvable over the uniform distribution, while Boolean parity functions are not. We suggest that the mechanism that underlies biological evolution overall is “evolvable target pursuit”, which consists of a series of evolutionary stages, each one inexorably pursuing an evolvable target in the technical sense suggested above, each such target being rendered evolvable by the serendipitous combination of the environment and the outcomes of previous evolutionary stages.
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