Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Digital Darwin

It’s a jungle out there. So businesses of every kind are increasingly turning to software rooted in survival-ofthe-fittest strategies to solve extraordinarily complex problems like managing air traffic, optimizing the efficiency of service calls, and even creating new materials and food flavors.

Software based on so-called genetic algorithms is “showing up in every way, shape, and form” in the business world, says Stephanie Forrest, a professor of computer science at the University of New Mexico. Genetic algorithms create a group of solutions to a particular problem-say, how to reschedule a fleet of airplanes when a thunderstorm shuts down a major airport. The algorithms rapidly replicate, mutate, and produce new generations of possible solutions that yield better and better results, all with very little human intervention. Millions of solutions might be created, but like fish eggs drifting in the sea, most will die. A solution that is better than its competitors eventually emerges.

It’s an approach that has been kicking around academic circles for years and has yielded some practical applications, but it is only now finding widespread commercial adoption. “Finally, this technology is coming out of the geeky environment and is being provided as a business solution,” says Navi Radjou, a principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, MA.

This story is part of our November 2003 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

The list of businesses using evolutionary software is expanding. For example, Delta Airlines this year signed on with a company that develops genetic algorithms, Ascent Technology of Cambridge, MA, to optimize the schedules of many of its employees-one of the biggest individual jobs ever undertaken by this type of software. Delta’s objective is to cut costs without reducing its level of service. And that’s a survival strategy that might have impressed Darwin himself.

Sampling of Competitors
Company Technology
Ascent Technology (Cambridge, MA) Evolutionary software to optimize airport and airline operations
IBM Research (Hawthorne, NY) Large-scale, self-managing, self-repairing computer systems
NuTech Solutions (Charlotte, NC) Evolutionary software that competes to solve problems from traffic-light coordination to artificial-flavor development
RDI (London and Cambridge, England) Evolutionary software to optimize drug combinations for HIV treatment
Tripos (St. Louis, MO) Genetic algorithms that speed drug development

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.