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15 Real-World Uses of Genetic Algorithms

genetic algorithms

Genetic Algorithm: A heuristic search technique used in computing and Artificial Intelligence to find optimized solutions to search problems using techniques inspired by evolutionary biology: mutation, selection, reproduction [inheritance] and recombination.

1. Automotive Design

Using Genetic Algorithms [GAs] to both design composite materials and aerodynamic shapes for race cars and regular means of transportation (including aviation) can return combinations of best materials and best engineering to provide faster, lighter, more fuel efficient and safer vehicles for all the things we use vehicles for. Rather than spending years in laboratories working with polymers, wind tunnels and balsa wood shapes, the processes can be done much quicker and more efficiently by computer modeling using GA searches to return a range of options human designers can then put together however they please.

2. Engineering Design

Getting the most out of a range of materials to optimize the structural and operational design of buildings, factories, machines, etc. is a rapidly expanding application of GAs. These are being created for such uses as optimizing the design of heat exchangers, robot gripping arms, satellite booms, building trusses, flywheels, turbines, and just about any other computer-assisted engineering design application. There is work to combine GAs optimizing particular aspects of engineering problems to work together, and some of these can not only solve design problems, but also project them forward to analyze weaknesses and possible point failures in the future so these can be avoided.

3. Robotics

Robotics involves human designers and engineers trying out all sorts of things in order to create useful machines that can do work for humans. Each robot's design is dependent on the job or jobs it is intended to do, so there are many different designs out there. GAs can be programmed to search for a range of optimal designs and components for each specific use, or to return results for entirely new types of robots that can perform multiple tasks and have more general application. GA-designed robotics just might get us those nifty multi-purpose, learning robots we've been expecting any year now since we watched the Jetsons as kids, who will cook our meals, do our laundry and even clean the bathroom for us!

4. Evolvable Hardware

Evolvable hardware applications are electronic circuits created by GA computer models that use stochastic (statistically random) operators to evolve new configurations from old ones. As the algorithm does its thing in the running model, eventually a circuit configuration will come along that does what the designer wants. Think of reconfigurable circuits in something like a space robot. It could use a built-in GA library and simulator to re-design itself after something like radiation exposure that messes up its normal configuration, or encounters a novel situation in which it needs a function it doesn't already have. Such GAs would enable self-adaptation and self-repair.

5. Optimized Telecommunications Routing

Do you find yourself frustrated by slow LAN performance, inconsistent internet access, a FAX machine that only sends faxes sometimes, your land line's number of 'ghost' phone calls every month? Well, GAs are being developed that will allow for dynamic and anticipatory routing of circuits for telecommunications networks. These could take notice of your system's instability and anticipate your re-routing needs. Using more than one GA circuit-search at a time, soon your interpersonal communications problems may really be all in your head rather than in your telecommunications system. Other GAs are being developed to optimize placement and routing of cell towers for best coverage and ease of switching, so your cell phone and blackberry will be thankful for GAs too.

6. Joke and Pun Generation

Among the linguistic applications of GAs - including a JAPE (automated pun generator) inspired STANDUP program to design communications strategies for people working with children who suffer communications disabilities - are GAs that search for jokes and puns. These come under the heading of "artificial creativity" and AI, but could prove very useful to class clowns and wannabe punsters whose public reputations depend upon being funnier than they actually are. These clever GAs will let you input a word you wish to pun or a subject you'd like to joke about, and will return a variety of solutions that just might lead to a lucrative career on the comedy club circuit!

7. Biomimetic Invention

Biomimicry or biomimetics is the development of technologies inspired by designs in nature. Since GAs are inspired by the mechanisms of biological evolution, it makes sense that they could be used in the process of invention as well. GAs rely primarily on something called implicit parallelism (like to like), using mutation and selection in secondary roles toward a design solution. GA programmers are working on applications that not only analyze the natural designs themselves for a return on how they work, but can also combine natural designs to create something entirely new that can have exciting applications.

8. Trip, Traffic and Shipment Routing

New applications of a GA known as the "Traveling Salesman Problem" or TSP can be used to plan the most efficient routes and scheduling for travel planners, traffic routers and even shipping companies. The shortest routes for traveling. The timing to avoid traffic tie-ups and rush hours. Most efficient use of transport for shipping, even to including pickup loads and deliveries along the way. The program can be modeling all this in the background while the human agents do other things, improving productivity as well! Chances are increasing steadily that when you get that trip plan packet from the travel agency, a GA contributed more to it than the agent did.

9. Computer Gaming

Those who spend some of their time playing computer Sims games (creating their own civilizations and evolving them) will often find themselves playing against sophisticated artificial intelligence GAs instead of against other human players online. These GAs have been programmed to incorporate the most successful strategies from previous games - the programs 'learn' - and usually incorporate data derived from game theory in their design. Game theory is useful in most all GA applications for seeking solutions to whatever problems they are applied to, even if the application really is a game.

10. Encryption and Code Breaking

On the security front, GAs can be used both to create encryption for sensitive data as well as to break those codes. Encrypting data, protecting copyrights and breaking competitors' codes have been important in the computer world ever since there have been computers, so the competition is intense. Every time someone adds more complexity to their encryption algorithms, someone else comes up with a GA that can break the code. It is hoped that one day soon we will have quantum computers that will be able to generate completely indecipherable codes. Of course, by then the 'other guys' will have quantum computers too, so it's a sure bet the spy vs. spy games will go on indefinitely.

11. Computer-Aided Molecular Design

The de novo design of new chemical molecules is a burgeoning field of applied chemistry in both industry and medicine. GAs are used to aid in the understanding of protein folding, analyzing the effects of substitutions on those protein functions, and to predict the binding affinities of various designed proteins developed by the pharmaceutical industry for treatment of particular diseases. The same sort of GA optimization and analysis is used for designing industrial chemicals for particular uses, and in both cases GAs can also be useful for predicting possible adverse consequences. This application has and will continue to have great impact on the costs associated with development of new chemicals and drugs.

12. Gene Expression Profiling

The development of microarray technology for taking 'snapshots' of the genes being expressed in a cell or group of cells has been a boon to medical research. GAs have been and are being developed to make analysis of gene expression profiles much quicker and easier. This helps to classify what genes play a part in various diseases, and further can help to identify genetic causes for the development of diseases. Being able to do this work quickly and efficiently will allow researchers to focus on individual patients' unique genetic and gene expression profiles, enabling the hoped-for "personalized medicine" we've been hearing about for several years.

13. Optimizing Chemical Kinetic Analysis

In the not-so rarified realm of fuels and engines for combustion technologies, GAs are proving very useful toward optimizing designs in transportation, aerospace propulsion and electrical generation. By being able to predict ahead of time the chemical kinetics of fuels and the efficiency of engines, more optimal mixtures and designs can be made available quicker to industry and the public. Some computer modeling applications in this area also simulate the effectiveness of lubricants and can pinpoint optimized operational vectors, and may lead to greatly increased efficiency all around well before traditional fuels run out.

14. Finance and Investment Strategies

In the current unprecedented world economic meltdown one might legitimately wonder if some of those Wall Street gamblers made use of GA-assisted computer modeling of finance and investment strategies to funnel the world's accumulated wealth into what can best be described as dot-dollar black holes. But then again, maybe they were simply all using the same prototype, which hadn't yet been de-bugged. It is possible that a newer generation of GA-assisted financial forecasting would have avoided the black holes and returned something other than bad debts the taxpayers get to repay. Who knows?

15. Marketing and Merchandising

We could think the word 'merchandising' just the way Mel Brooks said it in the "Space Balls" the movie. Space Balls the toilet paper. Space Balls the lunchbox. Space Balls the flame thrower (the kids love this one)... And laugh because it's close enough to reality to be funny. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that GAs are indeed being put to work to help merchandisers to produce products and marketing consultants design advertising and direct solicitation campaigns to sell stuff. Maybe this application of GAs could someday get us out of the financial black hole and get things moving again.

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