For the past three months, participants in BEACON’s evolved art competition have been using evolution to create art pieces that resemble the BEACON lighthouse. “How is that possible?” you ask?
Each entry started as a random image that looked something more like abstract art than a lighthouse.
On Picbreeder, evolutionary artists can select one image from a group of images to “reproduce” into the next generation. Following an evolutionary process, Picbreeder then creates 15 copies of that image (“offspring”), each with a slight change to the image (a “mutation”). Of course, since the artist, rather than nature, is doing the selecting, this is a form of directed evolution, not natural evolution.
As you can see above, some mutations make the image look more appealing, whereas other mutations make the image look worse than it originally was. Some mutations don’t make the image look very different at all, which is of course important if the evolutionary artist doesn’t want to lose the image she just made copies of.
After successive generations of “breeding” the images, the evolutionary artists started to evolve images that looked more and more like the BEACON lighthouse—or at least something evocative of it—until they reached the images shown below. These entries highlight the creative power of evolution: beautiful art pieces can be created by accumulating the right mutations over time!
While none of the entries look exactly like the BEACON lighthouse, it is important to note that the goal of the competition was to evolve an alternative lighthouse image. If the goal was instead to evolve an exact copy of the existing logo, the competition would have likely failed: Even if we clearly define a specific goal for directed evolution, and even if we have full control over selection (such as when humans breed animals), evolution may not produce the desired result. The reason is that although certain characteristics can be selected when they appear, there is no guarantee that they will appear. This is unsurprising when you think about it, in that we would not expect a human to be able to breed a Tyrannosaurus rex from a beagle even when given millions of years to do it.
We received 50 entries, which were judged by a committee of 6 BEACON scientists and educators: Connie James, Masoud Mirmomeni, Randy Olson, Rob Pennock, Jory Schossau, and Allison Walker. The committee selected the top three winners and a few entries that were too good not to highlight. Enjoy looking through the top entries!
The winners have all been contacted and will soon receive their prizes. Thank you to all of our contest entrants for your participation and creativity!