New Model of Evolution Finally Reveals How Cooperation Evolves

Why do some individuals collaborate more effectively than do others? By treating evolution as a thermodynamic process, theorists have solved one the great problems in biology. The results of this research have serious implications for today’s VUCA marketplace in which combinations of humans and machines — working together — have achieved high-impact results of increasingly greater importance. Check out this brief excerpt from a recent article by Emerging Technology from arXiv, featured in the MIT Technology Review.

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One of the great unanswered question in biology is why organisms have evolved to cooperate. The long-term benefits of cooperation are clear—look at the extraordinary structures that termites build, for example, or the complex society humans have created.

But evolution is a random process based on the short-term advantages that emerge in each generation. Of course, individuals can cooperate or act selfishly, and this allows them to accrue benefits or suffer costs, depending on the circumstances. But how this behavior can spread and lead to the long-term emergence of cooperation as the dominant behavior is a conundrum that has stumped evolutionary biologists for decades.

Today, that could change thanks to the work of Christoph Adami and Arend Hintze at Michigan State University in East Lansing. They have created a simple mathematical model using well understood physical principles to show how cooperation emerges during evolution.

Their model suggests that the balance between cooperation and selfish behavior, called defection, can undergo rapid phase transitions, in which individuals match their behavior to their neighbors. What’s more, a crucial factor turns out to be the process of punishment. “Punishment acts like a magnetic field that leads to an ‘alignment’ between players, thus encouraging cooperation,” say Adami and Hintze.

This new approach has the potential to change the way evolutionary biologists, economists, and computer scientists think about cooperation and the role that punishment plays in encouraging it.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

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