Wired Magazine published an interesting article this month focused around embracing human cloning. The writer, Greg Easterbrook, argues cloning is actually quite natural. He states; “Nature wants us to pass on our genes; if cloning assists in that effort, nature would not be offended… there is nothing intrinsically unnatural about human inventions that improve reproductive odds.”
He doesn’t identify if he suggests we should use cloning to pass on only desirable traits in order to speed up the evolutionary process or just clone whomever. In fact he doesn’t really identify anything more than just “cloning could be a good thing.” The article is disappointingly short and factually shallow, especially by normal Wired standards. In fact it didn’t get me thinking that much at all — that is until my class today.
Guest speaker, Jeffrey Ventrella – infiltrated my AI class to discuss Genetic Algorithms. Ventrella is a veteran at developing virtual worlds and is a visiting professor at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver BC (plus a whole bunch of other cool crazy stuff).
Jeffrey shares with us a couple of JAVA applets he has built with Genetic Algorithms. One of them is GenePool, here’s the “30 second elevator pitch”:
It’s a computer simulation where hundreds of virtual organisms evolve swimming skills. These organisms are called “swimbots”. You can set mate preference criteria and thus influence what the swimbots consider as attractive qualities in potential mates. The most attractive swimbots get chosen most often to have little babies, and so their genetic building blocks propogate to future generations. Eventually, swimbots get better at pursuing each other, competing for food, and becoming babes to other swimbots. Local gene pools emerge which compete for sex and food (for energy to have more sex). Eventually a dominant sub-population takes over. (http://www.swimbots.com/About.html)
But the best part is you could actually see the effects on the organisms when you mess around with natural selection or alter the ecosystem. In fact, Jeffrey even mentions how the applet could be useful for evolutionary experiments.
Gene Pool is best appreciated as a virtual Darwinian aquarium in which you initiate a primordial soup, and then occasionally check up on what Virtual Mother Nature is up to – about every fifteen minutes (or every few days, if you are interested in long-term evolutionary experiments!)… In Gene Pool you can “Tweak Ecology”… (http://www.swimbots.com/About.html)
In the application not only can you apply random mutations, change sexual selection criteria and create organisms, but you can also clone. If we clone organisms with a high fitness function does it speed up the pools evolution? If we clone organisms with low fitness function how would that alter evolution?
I have to admit the best suggestion for testing different scenarios within the Gene Pool is Jeffrey’s: “What happens when swimbots give (ALL) of their energy to their offspring when they mate? Here’s a hint: They die.” 🙂