By Sparky | February 23, 2006
BoingBoing just brought to my attention one of the coolest things to happen so far this year in technology. NASA has been using genetic evolutionary algorithms to design space-worthy equipment.
Recently they put this new technology to work to design a better antenna for satellites. They gave their genetic algorithm several existing antenna designs and had it try random modifications to it and then run tests to see if these modifications improved the reception and performance of the antenna for the specific duties it would be performing.
When a generation was better than the previous generation of antennas the computer would use that as a new generation and repeat the process. Using only 80 personal computers these genetic algorithms were able to make significant improvements to the design (resulting is something a human designer probably would not have thought of) in less than eight hours.
The newly designed antenna looks much like a bent paper clip, but is significantly better at sending and receiving the data than the much larger antenna the design process started with. The new antenna also has a wider range, and significantly lower power requirements than a traditional antenna would have.
I personally think that this event has further reaching implications than simply a new antenna for low earth orbit satellites. To me this is the first step in the direction of the Singularity. Now that we have proof that a well designed computer can create a tool far more efficiently than a person (or a person using a computer with traditional prototyping tools) can.
With this as a first step how long is it before a super computer cluster is called upon to design a new processor for Intel or AMD. Once that happens and nano-fabrication technology catches up not only would the cluster be able to create the new processor, but it could add that processor and it’s increased abilities to the cluster, thus making the next generation of genetic technological evolution happen even faster.
Golly the future is going to be neat if the geeks win!
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