James Martin Borg

Social Learning and Cultural Evolution in Artificial Evolutionary Systems

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News and Views

A (mostly) successful few months

I've had a very busy few months which have involved a number of successes, and one failure. Let's start with the successes

A major congratulations to my PhD Student, Nathan Brooks, who successfully defended his PhD Thesis yesterday (subject to corrections). Nathan's PhD is titled "Powering the Community: Facilitating demand-side load balancing in community energy systems through decentralised mechanisms and social capital" and was supervised by myself, Dr Simon Powers, and Dr Alastair Channon. Nathan is my first PhD student and I am immensely proud of him.  A massive thank you to both examiners, Prof. Jeremy Pitt and Dr Charles Day. Congratulations soon-to-be Dr Brooks!

Following a rapid and arduous process, I am happy to announce that from September 2025 Aston University will have its first cohort of students on the new and shiny BSc Artificial Intelligence and Robotics programme. I have spent most of 2024 designing this programme, and I think it is probably the best UG AI programme in the UK!

I am also now, officially, a member of the EPSRC Peer Review College and have been invited to be a member of the Royal Society’s International Exchanges Panel.

My final success - reviewing for GECCO 2024 conference and being invited to review for the AI & Society journal (review pending).

And the failure - the grant proposal of was involved in with Dr Naomi Forrester-Soto, Dr Shannan L. Rossi, and Dr  Felipe Campelo titled: "Using lab-in-the-loop machine learning to model alphavirus neuroinvasion" was rejected by the NIH. Very dissapointed as the research being proposed is awesome! We will pick ourselves up and try again. 

Paper online and the birth of a new research centre

The epic "Evolved Open-Endedness in Cultural Evolution: A New Dimension in Open-Ended Evolution Research" (mentioned in my previous update) is now online as an Online Early article with the Artificial Life Journal - you can get it here: https://doi.org/10.1162/artl_a_00406

I am also proud to be part of the new brand new Aston Centre for AI Research and Applications (ACAIRA). Hopefully some cool stuff coming your way soon.


State of the nation (i.e. another update)

I'm pretty useless at updates, so here is just one update dump covering new roles, new papers, new parts of the website, ....

Update 1: People have foolishly given me some responsibility

I have taken on two new roles with the Department of Computer Science at Aston University. Firstly I am now the new Placement's Co-ordinator for the department, so if you are a business looking for some placement students, drop me a line. Secondly, I am now officially on the management committee for the new Aston Centre for AI Research and Application (ACAIRA), led by the brilliant Prof. Aniko Ekárt. Hopefully more news on that coming soon.

Update 2: Massive research update

Firstly,  2 new papers will hopefully be hitting your virtual shelves soon! 

Some grant and fellowship news.
TDLR: No money yet, some rejections, but some exciting opportunities being pursued.

Update 3:  Website

I have decided to add a section to CV under Funding titled "Unsuccessful" to list my grant rejections. I am also planning remove my "Reading List" as it is getting a little depressing (and hard to update!) - I am doing lots of reading, but not the stuff I listed a year ago here. Finally I plan to add a  blog area to the site as a place to brain dump my views of things (mainly academic). Keep an eye out for updates coming soon!

A much belated update - 2 papers and a new job!

Let's start with the big news: In January 2022 I joined the School of Informatics and Digital Engineering at Aston University as a Lecturer in Computer Science. Really excited to join a large and vibrant department with lots of great research going on, though I am sad to have left the School of Computing and Mathematics at Keele University after 12 years. Check out my new Aston webpage here - https://research.aston.ac.uk/en/persons/james-borg

Onto papers ...

This paper is a invited article for the Artificial Life Journal which builds on from our ALife 2020 conference best paper, "Coloured noise time series as appropriate models for environmental variation in artificial evolutionary systems", which you access as a preprint here, or as a published version here. If you would like to read the journal paper, or the original conference paper but can't get access please feel free to contact me.

Abstract: "Simulations of evolutionary dynamics often employ white noise as a model of stochastic environmental variation. Whilst white noise has the advantages of being simply generated and analytically tractable, empirical analyses demonstrate that most real environmental time series have power spectral densities consistent with pink or red noise, in which lower frequencies contribute proportionally greater amplitudes than higher frequencies. Simulated white noise environments may therefore fail to capture key components of real environmental time series, leading to erroneous results. To explore the effects of different noise colours on evolving populations, a simple evolutionary model of the interaction between life-history and the specialism-generalism axis was developed. Simulations were conducted using a range of noise colours as the environments to which agents adapted. Results demonstrate complex interactions between noise colour, reproductive rate, and the degree of evolved generalism; importantly, contradictory conclusions arise from simulations using white as opposed to red noise, suggesting that noise colour plays a fundamental role in generating adaptive responses. These results are discussed in the context of previous research on evolutionary responses to fluctuating environments, and it is suggested that Artificial Life as a field should embrace a wider spectrum of coloured noise models to ensure that results are truly representative of environmental and evolutionary dynamics.

This paper has been submitted to the upcoming "Open-Ended Evolution" special issue for the Artificial Life Journal. The article is a invited submission following our on from the extended abstract titled "Evolved Open-Endedness in Cultural Evolution", which was presented at the The Fourth Workshop on Open-Ended Evolution (OEE4). You can read the extended abstract either at the workshop webpage or over in my publications and outputs page. Again if you have trouble accessing either the extended abstract or the journal preprint just drop me an email. 

Abstract: "The goal of Artificial Life research, as articulated by Chris Langton, is "to contribute to theoretical biology by locating life-as-we-know-it within the larger picture of life-as-it-could-be" (1989, p.1). The study and pursuit of open-ended evolution in artificial evolutionary systems exemplifies this goal. However, open-ended evolution research is hampered by two fundamental issues; the struggle to replicate open-endedness in an artificial evolutionary system, and the fact that we only have one system (genetic evolution) from which to draw inspiration. Here we argue that cultural evolution should be seen not only as another real-world example of an open-ended evolutionary system, but that the unique qualities seen in cultural evolution provide us with a new perspective from which we can assess the fundamental properties of, and ask new questions about, open-ended evolutionary systems, especially in regard to evolved open-endedness and transitions from bounded to unbounded evolution. Here we provide an overview of culture as an evolutionary system, highlight the interesting case of human cultural evolution as an open-ended evolutionary system, and contextualise cultural evolution under the framework of (evolved) open-ended evolution. We go on to provide a set of new questions that can be asked once we consider cultural evolution within the framework of open-ended evolution, and introduce new insights that we may be able to gain about evolved open-endedness as a result of asking these questions."  

Both papers also appear over at my Google Scholar page, my Aston University profile, and on my Publications and Outputs page.


ALife Conference 2021 - 2 presentations and a workshop!

The Artificial Life Conference (ALife) 2021 conference, held virtually in Prague to celebrate 100 years since the publication of "Rossum's Universal Robots" by Czech author Karel Čapek, will be kicking off on 19/07/2021. This year's ALife will be a busy one for me, with 2 presentations and a workshop!

Presentation 1 (21/07/2021, 10:30 - 11:00 BST): In this presentation I will be presenting an overview of my 2021 Artificial Life journal article titled "The effect of social information use without learning on the evolution of social behavior" - you can find the paper here https://doi.org/10.1162/artl_a_00328. I will upload my presentation recording and slides after the conference.

Presentation 2 (22/07/2021, 13:10 - 13:30 BST): I am delighted to be presenting in the The Fourth Workshop on Open-Ended Evolution (OEE4). I will presenting some ongoing work that I have been undertaking with Simon Powers on "Evolved Open-Endedness in Cultural Evolution". You can read our extended abstract at http://workshops.alife.org/oee4/papers/borg-oee4-camera-ready.pdf (or over at my Publications and Outputs page). I will upload my presentation recording and slides after the workshop.

The Fifth International Workshop of Social Learning and Cultural Evolution (21/07/2021, 14:00 - 16:00 & 17:00 - 18:30 BST): After a year off last year, myself, Simon Powers, Chris Marriott and Peter Andras (this joined by my PhD student Nathan Brooks) are back with the Fifth installment of the SLaCE workshop! Keeps your eye's peeled for speaker and schedule announcements (which should be made available over at www.slace.org very soon). Our keynote speakers this year are Dr Richard Watson and Prof Mark Bedau). Presentation recordings will be uploaded to the workshop website following the workshop.

I think I'm going to need a long nap after the conference!


Cultural Evolution Society Conference 2021

I will be attending my very first CES conference this year (!!!), after having my talk on "Insights from Artificial Life: Measuring and Classifying Open-Ended Evolutionary Dynamics" accepted. This is a collaborative effort between myself, Andrew Buskell, Simon Powers and Rohan Kapitany

"Many features of Human cultural evolution, such as technology (Kolodny et al., 2015), language (Carr et al., 2016), and scientific knowledge (Lehman, 1947) seem to exhibit unbounded evolutionary dynamics; growing in complexity, introducing new innovations, and having no obvious bounds. Evolutionary systems exhibiting unbounded evolutionary dynamics are commonly referred to as being open-ended (Bedau et al., 1998). The creation and analysis of systems that exhibit open-ended evolutionary dynamics is an open problem in the field of Artificial Life (Bedau et al., 2000). Motivated by the observations that nature exhibits unbounded evolution, with the ongoing generation of adaptive novelty and complexity, Artificial Life researchers want to create open-ended evolutionary systems in artificial media (e.g. computer simulations, robots, ... ). The goal of achieving open-endedness in artificial evolutionary systems has led to the formalisation of measurements for unbounded evolutionary dynamics - these measurements take the form of evolutionary activity statistics, and are often called the “ALife Test” for unbounded evolutionary dynamics (Bedau et al., 1998). This test has been applied to the fossil record (Bedau et al., 1998), the patent record (Bedau et al., 2019) and artificial evolutionary systems (Channon, 2003). The activity statistics enable researchers to take any evolving system over time and assess changes to diversity, alongside measuring the introduction and adaptive persistence of new components in the system. Despite having numerous datasets, models, and evaluation methods, the field of cultural evolution is yet to effectively determine whether any given component of a culturally evolving system is bounded or unbounded. Determining what species exhibit open-ended cultural evolution, and in which behavioural domains, should be a key focus of cultural evolution going forward, and the the ALife test provides us with a consistent approach for doing this."


YCCSA Seminar

On 18/03/2021 I gave a talk titled "Coloured noise and the evolution of environmental tolerance in artificial evolutionary systems" for the York Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis seminar series. If you missed it you can watch the seminar here: https://youtu.be/_mjBYnKU3lU

A Belated Update

After a very successful 2020 Conference on Artificial Life, which resulted in our paper ""Coloured noise time series as appropriate models for environmental variation in artificial evolutionary systems" being awarded best paper,  a follow up to this work has now been submitted to the Artificial Life journal - watch this space!

Also, the final chapter from my PhD Thesis has now been improved and published - you can find "The Effect of Social Information Use Without Learning on the Evolution of Social Behavior" in the Artificial Life journal: https://doi.org/10.1162/artl_a_00328

After a year off the Social Learning and Cultural Evolution (SLaCE) workshop will be returning to the Artificial Life conference this year. Once we have populated the new permanent home for the workshop (www.slace.org), an update no speakers and theme will be forthcoming! 

And last but not least, the Cultural Evolution Online Discord Server is going from strength to strength - if you would like to join a growing cross-disciplinary community which has a weekly Journal Club/Talk (every Friday 3-4pm GMT), then drop me an email to get an invite link.


Two Paper Accepted to the 2020 Conference on Artificial Life

Delighted to have both of my submissions accepted for contributed talks at the upcoming 2020 Conference on Artificial Life. arXiv links below:


PhD Opportunity @ Keele University in "Social Learning in Artificial Evolutionary Systems"

I have a self-funded PhD opportunity in "Social Learning in Artificial Evolutionary Systems" - so if you are looking for a PhD in Artificial Life, Evolutionary Robotics, or Social Learning this very well may be the opportunity for you. For more information please check out my PhD Opportunities page of the findaphd.com advert. The PhD opportunity is open anyone from a Computer Science, or Natural Sciences background, or students from Social Sciences or Humanities who either can already program or are motivated to learn to do so.


Fancy joining me at Keele University?

Fancy joining me at Keele University? The School of Computing and Mathematics has two new lectureships in Computer Science - ALife people strongly encouraged to apply. 



Research Seminar - School of Computing and Mathematics, Keele University

On the 31st October 2018, 3-4pm, I will be giving a research seminar in the School of Computing and Mathematics, Keele University. Venue, Title and Abstract coming soon...


The Birth of a Website 

I have always put off creating a website for myself - but now that I have become a fully fledged lecturer, I thought it would be useful to have some personal website to discuss my research, upload publications, express my views, and advertise PhD opportunities.  Not much here yet - but more to come soon.