Using simple robots to simulate genetic evolution over hundreds of generations, scientists shed light on why humans help each other.
Swiss scientists used tiny robots to simulate behavioral evolution over generations.
They have the first quantitative proof that altruistic behavior is determined by genetic proximity.
Their findings could lead to more responsive swarming robots.
For decades the prevailing wisdom in biology has been that individual self-sacrifice enables a group's genes to keep going in the long run. Now Swiss researchers have actually proven this is true by evolving generations of tiny autonomous robots that are confronted with a basic decision to share food.
"For biologists, this rule had never been tested empirically before in a quantitative way," said Laurent Keller, a biologist in the University of Lausanne's Department of Ecology and Evolution who worked on the study, published today in PLoS Biology. "It's the first field test to show it's working."
In 1964, British evolutionary biologist W.D. Hamilton published what later became known as Hamilton's rule of kin selection. He said that the evolution of altruistic behavior -- sacrificing oneself for the greater good -- is determined by genetic proximity. Meaning that giving food to your siblings will help the genes live on, even if you don't.