Programming adventures

A simple blog about my projects

Neuroevolution: fitness and birds

Last time we established what the basic concept of neuroevolution is and I used a simple diagram to illustrate it. That diagram is actually slightly false. For simplification I omitted how we repopulate after selecting only the fittest specimen. Most of the time, a type of crossover technique is used, but we could also simply clone the better specimen. Here is the fixed version.


I will now go over each step in more details and explain a few techniques I employed for each of them.

Evaluation / Fitness

First is the evaluation step. We run our network population (forward propagation) then calculate the fitness achieved by each NN. Fitness is an arbitrarily computed number representing how well a specimen did during its simulated lifetime. Here is a example:

I’m sure most of you are familiar with this little game. The goal is simple, go as far right as you can. The fitness is then how far right we went before dying (the top right score on the video). In this case fitness is easy grasp as a concept and thus easy to compute. However as your problem gets harder to resolve so will the fitness to compute. This is arguably the most important cog in our machine. A bad fitness function will render the system unable to evolve NNs properly or slow down the evolution by a lot. I will explain more when presenting the project I applied neuroevolution to.


We now have our criteria for choosing the best specimen. There are several means of parent selection. We can sort NNs by fitness and eliminate the worst 50% and that would work. Yet I found using a more random method yield better results. My favorite was selection tournament. You pit specimen against random opponents multiple times and the victor becomes a parent (the best fitness wins). Selection roulette is very good as well. Imagine a long band with all the fitnesses added up one after the other. Where you land on the band determines the parent. Bigger fitnesses have a lot more chance to be landed on, while still leaving a chance for a low scoring specimen.

selection roulette


Crossover is the mating part, mixing two parents to produce a “child”. There are a lot of ways to do this as well. Some choose to use a genome model, assigning genes to specimen and converting them back to weight values or even different neuron topologies (Neuroevolution is also referred as Genetic algorithm). I personally didn’t go down that path and stuck with weights instead. Here are two examples of crossover techniques.


A,B,C are gene letters, but they could also be each connection weight value


Finally, mutation. Mutation, in our case, will alter/reset one or more connection weight depending on the connection rate. We have to fine tune this rate in order to have a correct evolution system. Too much mutation leads to randomness and no refining, too little will considerably slow down the process. We may also choose to keep a few specimen from mutating in order to not lose the best solution in the next generation.


It is time to put all this theory into practice. I created a little simulation where 2D birds teach themselves how to fly. Here is a sneak peek, I will talk more about it in the next post, see you then!