Living web sites that grow, develop and evolve to suit the taste of the people that read them are now finding their way on to the internet.
For two decades, computer scientists have played around with evolutionary software that can gradually evolve and mutate to carry out a task efficiently, or hone the design of a wing, robot or whatever, without the need for a programmer to get involved.
A grouping of some of the sites with human controlled
design properties or genetic design evolution
Now these techniques are being used to allow web sites to keep themselves up to date and to adapt to the latest fads and fashion, reports New Scientist.
Not only are they quicker to evolve than possible with human intervention, they offer the chance to come up with new ways to organise material in the web that work best for users.
Matthew Hockenberry and Ernesto Arroyo of Creative Synthesis, a non-profit organisation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have created evolutionary software that alters colours, fonts and hyperlinks of pages in response to what seems to grab the attention of the people who click on the site. See www.creativesynthesis.net for more.
To start, he used mouse-tracking software developed by Arroyo while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on 24 people who were asked to use a basic web site template for a blog.
Once the blog went live, control of the design was out of their hands.
The software treated each feature as a “gene” that was randomly changed as a page was refreshed.
After evaluating what seemed to work, it killed the genes associated with lower scoring features – say the link in an Arial font that was being ignored – and replaced them with those from higher scoring ones say, Helvetica.
“We see a lot of terrible designs for the first 100 or so generations,” Hockenberry tells New Scientist.
But the pages gradually morph to be more pleasing. Interestingly, they do not simply reflect a consensus of what people want to see, since the random element means the exercise is truly creative.
“The mutations will always occur and while they are responsive to human attention, they are not bound by them.
It is possible to develop unique mutations that may actually influence human goals (rather than the other way around).”
Prof Gregg Vanderheiden of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says sites that cater to people with disabilities would particularly benefit from evolving pages.
And evolutionary computing researcher Charles Ofria of Michigan State University in East Lansing says the idea might remove the need to constantly test websites on users in the way that companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook now do.
The work is reminiscent of the way that evolutionary methods were used to create organic art by the America Karl Sims – at an exhibition, art was continually evolving by breeding the images that people liked to look at, and killing those that were unpopular.
“A lot of the work done in genetic / organic art certainly serves as a significant intellectual inspiration,” says Hockenberry.
“The most significant difference is the goal of targeting the real public in a process. We want to add a sense of responsibility to this genetic growth. Does the process make sense? Does it do something useful? How do people work within this process and support it?
“Most of the examples of using genetic algorithms are about making something – and then showing the result for interaction. We want human creativity to be a driving force within a process of computer genetic evolution. So while pages might be growing – it still matters if humans take care of them and they can still influence the growth in very significant ways.”
Source : telegraph.co.uk