On the Origin of Circuits Article #280 • Written by Alan Bellows ▼ Scroll to Continue ▼
Ever since I learned about who Jeri Ellsworth ( http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeriellsworth ) was and watched a few of her videos ( https://www.youtube.com/user/jeriellsworth/videos ) I was hooked on this vivacious young lass from (at the time) Portland Oregon. I rapidly learned that she was an ardent fan of the mighty FPGA chip. Now I had heard of these chips and I knew that they were Field Programmable Gate Arrays that could be programmed through a computer interface but I just presumed that they were for use in fancy switching circuits and had no idea of their true underlying power until I started researching Jeri and her fascination with them and her self taught usage designs. She inspired me to obtain and explore the FPGA world and though I have not accomplished near the level of understanding of them that she has I have certainly learned a lot from her over the years in both watching her countless videos and live hacking feeds.
This is a really cool article involving FPGAs and the Game Of Life (not the board game either). It reveals a lot about evolution that would otherwise not be able to be studied given the life span of a single generation yet here Adrian is able to accomplish dozens of generations in just a short time.
Here is the first part of the article. Click on the link at the end of the article to go to them main page of the article and read about the rest of it there!
In a unique laboratory in Sussex, England, a computer carefully scrutinized every member of large and diverse set of candidates. Each was evaluated dispassionately, and assigned a numeric score according to a strict set of criteria. This machine’s task was to single out the best possible pairings from the group, then force the selected couples to mate so that it might extract the resulting offspring and repeat the process with the following generation. As predicted, with each breeding cycle the offspring evolved slightly, nudging the population incrementally closer to the computer’s pre-programmed definition of the perfect individual.
The candidates in question were not the stuff of blood, guts, and chromosomes that are normally associated with evolution, rather they were clumps of ones and zeros residing within a specialized computer chip. As these primitive bodies of data bumped together in their silicon logic cells, Adrian Thompson– the machine’s master– observed with curiosity and enthusiasm.
Dr. Adrian Thompson is a researcher operating from the Department of Informatics at the University of Sussex, and his experimentation in the mid-1990s represented some of science’s first practical attempts to penetrate the virgin domain of hardware evolution. The concept is roughly analogous to Charles Darwin’s elegant principle of natural selection, which describes how individuals with the most advantageous traits are more likely to survive and reproduce. This process tends to preserve favorable characteristics by passing them to the survivors’ descendants, while simultaneously suppressing the spread of less-useful traits.
Dr. Thompson dabbled with computer circuits in order to determine whether survival-of-the-fittest principles might provide hints for improved microchip designs. As a test bed, he procured a special type of chip called a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) whose internal logic can be completely rewritten as opposed to the fixed design of normal chips. This flexibility results in a circuit whose operation is hot and slow compared to conventional counterparts, but it allows a single chip to become a modem, a voice-recognition unit, an audio processor, or just about any other computer component. All one must do is load the appropriate configuration.
Read all about it here!