The accidental roboticist

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Science  10 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6206, pp. 192-194
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6206.192

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Like living things, robotic tadpoles called Tadros evolve, changing from generation to generation in response to a form of survival-of-the-fittest selection. They are the brainchildren of John Long, a Vassar College biologist. He and his team believe that experiments with robots can lay bare the nuts and bolts of evolution in ways that observations with living things cannot. Long has used Tadros to study the evolution of backbones, testing the idea that by making ancient fish stiffer, backbones made them faster and hence better at collecting food or evading predators. Now, his group is gearing up for an even more ambitious effort. They plan to use Tadros to probe the font of all life's diversity: the ability to evolve, or evolvability. One key to that ability, Long and his collaborators think, may be modular design, especially in the brain. In animals, for example, distinct neural circuits control different functions, such as vocalization and vision. If they are right, modularity itself should evolve within the Tadro's control circuits, under the right conditions.

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