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The evolvability of programmable hardware


Raman, K; Wagner, A (2011). The evolvability of programmable hardware. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 8:269-281.

Abstract

In biological systems, individual phenotypes are typically adopted by multiple genotypes. Examples include protein structure phenotypes, where each structure can be adopted by a myriad individual amino acid sequence genotypes. These genotypes form vast connected 'neutral networks' in genotype space. The size of such neutral networks endows biological systems not only with robustness to genetic change, but also with the ability to evolve a vast number of novel phenotypes that occur near any one neutral network. Whether technological systems can be designed to have similar properties is poorly understood. Here we ask this question for a class of programmable electronic circuits that compute digital logic functions. The functional flexibility of such circuits is important in many applications, including applications of evolutionary principles to circuit design. The functions they compute are at the heart of all digital computation. We explore a vast space of 10(45) logic circuits ('genotypes') and 10(19) logic functions ('phenotypes'). We demonstrate that circuits that compute the same logic function are connected in large neutral networks that span circuit space. Their robustness or fault-tolerance varies very widely. The vicinity of each neutral network contains circuits with a broad range of novel functions. Two circuits computing different functions can usually be converted into one another via few changes in their architecture. These observations show that properties important for the evolvability of biological systems exist in a commercially important class of electronic circuitry. They also point to generic ways to generate fault-tolerant, adaptable and evolvable electronic circuitry.

In biological systems, individual phenotypes are typically adopted by multiple genotypes. Examples include protein structure phenotypes, where each structure can be adopted by a myriad individual amino acid sequence genotypes. These genotypes form vast connected 'neutral networks' in genotype space. The size of such neutral networks endows biological systems not only with robustness to genetic change, but also with the ability to evolve a vast number of novel phenotypes that occur near any one neutral network. Whether technological systems can be designed to have similar properties is poorly understood. Here we ask this question for a class of programmable electronic circuits that compute digital logic functions. The functional flexibility of such circuits is important in many applications, including applications of evolutionary principles to circuit design. The functions they compute are at the heart of all digital computation. We explore a vast space of 10(45) logic circuits ('genotypes') and 10(19) logic functions ('phenotypes'). We demonstrate that circuits that compute the same logic function are connected in large neutral networks that span circuit space. Their robustness or fault-tolerance varies very widely. The vicinity of each neutral network contains circuits with a broad range of novel functions. Two circuits computing different functions can usually be converted into one another via few changes in their architecture. These observations show that properties important for the evolvability of biological systems exist in a commercially important class of electronic circuitry. They also point to generic ways to generate fault-tolerant, adaptable and evolvable electronic circuitry.

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13 citations in Web of Science®
15 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:9 June 2011
Deposited On:12 Mar 2012 13:47
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 14:28
Publisher:Royal Society Publishing
ISSN:1742-5662
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2010.0212
PubMed ID:20534598
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-40188

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