newsletter of the ACM Special Interest Group on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation


Welcome to the Summer 2020 issue of the SIGEvolution newsletter! Our cover, by Andy Lomas and Jon McCormack, shows intriguing transitional forms generated by morphogenetic simulations. We start with a reflection of the pros and cons of attending an online conference from a point of view of a participant, Oliver Krauss, who questions whether they will be the next big thing or just a temporary measure. Our next contribution by Risto Miikkulainen, overviews a recent website fostering the evolutionary perspective to AI, with technology, results, a series of expert interviews on the future of AI, and a new COVID-19 predictive modelling tool. We continue with an overview of forthcoming evolutionary computation conferences this summer, and the first 2021 calls for papers.

As ever, please get in touch if you would like to contribute an article for a future issue or have suggestions for the newsletter.

Gabriela Ochoa, Editor.

About the cover

Three transitional forms, generated using morphogenetic simulations that create structure from processes of cellular division. Deep Neural Networks were used to find places in the genotype space where transitions between different types of behaviour are predicted to occur, resulting in particularly complex hybrid structures. Each of the final forms shown here is made out of 10 million separate cells.

This work comes from a collaboration between artist Andy Lomas and Jon McCormack's SensiLab group at Monash University, and was presented at EvoMUSART2020 in "Understanding Aesthetic Evaluation using Deep Learning." In: Romero J., Ekárt A., Martins T., Correia J. (eds) Artificial Intelligence in Music, Sound, Art and Design. EvoMUSART 2020. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 12103. Springer, Cham.

Here is a video recording of the conference presentation.

Virtual conferences: the next big thing or a temporary emergency measure?

by Oliver Krauss

Due to the health and safety hazard introduced by Covid-19 and the measures of governments around the world restricting travel and large gatherings, most conferences in 2020 have decided to go virtual. This includes the recently held EvoStar conferences, as well as the upcoming Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO), which many SIGEVO Members are attending regularly.

The following article will attempt to summarize the advantages, disadvantages and challenges that come with such virtual conferences from an attendee’s perspective. As they are collected from discussions and personal opinions, take them with a grain of salt, as every experience on a conference is different.

Technical Challenges

The core technical challenge that a virtual conference has to deal with is how to organize video presentations, both on the smaller scale of workshop / dedicated sessions for talks and on the much larger scale of keynotes and assemblies. The EvoStar organizers handled this via two different systems.

Zoom was utilized to manage the different sessions that the EvoStar conferences cover. The rooms were mostly co-managed by two people that dealt with letting attendees into the rooms, moderating the talks and reading chat questions from the audience to the presenters. This system made it easy to communicate with presenters without introducing background noises from a multitude of microphones. In addition, it enabled the presenter to concentrate on the questions instead of having to deal with multiple people talking over each other at the same time. The votes for best paper were also handled via the Zoom internal voting tool, which worked well.

Several attendees had issues with large delays between audio and video, making it hard to follow the presenter’s elaborations. This might be a symptom of underlying issues such as local internet connectivity or low-end PCs or just the internet use in the time zone with modern streaming services introducing a heavy burden on regional networks.

The keynotes were presented via YouTube, which is a great choice for larger keynotes as the platform is widespread, has dedicated support for large scale streaming and enabled anyone in the world to attend live, or watch the keynotes later.

A technical challenge on the attendees’ side is their own internet connection. Especially for people living in rural areas a bad connection meant having bad video, audio or even dropping out of presentations for some time. For presenters the issue increased when sharing their screen, for which also a sufficiently powerful PC is necessary. As a whole, this is an issue during home office periods, but should be negligible for when people can attend via their universities or workplaces, which traditionally have higher-grade internet connectivity and devices available.

Organizational Challenges

There were many organizational challenges “behind the scenes” that many attendees have been only tangentially aware of. The pandemic hit hard and fast, forcing organizers to quickly find alternative solutions and deal with venues, publishers, catering and the dozens of other people and organizations making a conference work in the end. The fast and excellent problem solving, communication and execution speaks volumes of the organizer’s dedication, which made EvoStar and will make other upcoming conferences a great success.

The attendees had it relatively easy with the only challenge of being there and being on time. For EvoStar, which is traditionally, very Europe-centric this was not as much of an issue as it will be for GECCO or the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE), which usually enjoy diverse audiences from all over the world. EvoStar and GECCO have chosen to hold the conference in the time zone where the conference was originally supposed to take place. This is convenient for some and requires many to change their sleeping habits while not living in that time zone. The disadvantage being that adjustment becomes harder.

ICSE is taking on a different approach, by organizing the conference into three different time bands, Pacific, Indian and Atlantic. This will enable everyone to participate in parts of the conference, possibly even more parts than if the conference had been held offline, as the sessions are more spread out.

Opportunities and Obstacles when going virtual

The greatest opportunities that speak for virtual conferences not just as an emergency measure but as something to stay in the scientific community are openness and accessibility.

Virtual conferences become more accessible from a financial standpoint. Not just because many conferences have significantly reduced fees, but also because travel and in consequence environmental impact as well as cost are removed. This helps anyone from low-income regions to students or researchers who would not have the funding for physical attendance.

The openness comes via the conferences often enforcing video submission so a backup in case of technical difficulties or no-shows is available. EvoStar has asked attendees to permit uploading their videos to the SPECIES YouTube channel , as well as several presenters uploading their videos to platforms on their own accord. This might present an important feature further enhancing the information that can be conveyed when publishing scientific research of which the scientific community will see more in the future.

This brings up the challenge of creating videos, which can be done easily with a notebook / phone camera and microphone, and a screen capture software. Some video editing can improve quality greatly. In addition to making your own research more accessible with a video explaining your publication, it can also help improve quality of the presentation with multiple retakes of which the best can be selected. Those who just get nervous talking in front of groups may also prefer creating videos though on the flipside talking to a camera instead of people is an acquired experience.

What greatly speaks against virtual conferences is the quality or even absence of feedback. When publishing, one usually does not just want to present their contribution to science, but also get feedback, ideas and input. Sometimes this also presents opportunities to exchange and collaborate. These aspects are unfortunately missing almost entirely in virtual conferences. You cannot talk to people in breaks as in a virtual environment this would just be people talking over each other. You cannot go out in the evenings with other conference attendants and discuss in a more informal setting. Finally, questions and feedback to presenters is sparser as not being face to face presents a natural psychological barrier that we have to force ourselves to get over. This could already be seen by the smaller amount of questions in chat than would be usual at a conference but becomes most evident in the poster sessions that EvoStar conducted which had much lower attendance than their physical counterparts usually do. Very often junior researchers or students rely on posters to get their ideas and prototypes reviewed by experienced researchers, which makes poster sessions an especially important concept that might require improvements or alternatives on virtual conferences.

Another smaller point is the wide availability of distractions that exist naturally when being on your work-pc and in a virtual conference at the same time. Better keep your email application closed.


Will virtual conferences stay in the scientific community? If you have not done so already, maybe check out a virtual conference this year and see for yourself.

They work well and can be attended anywhere at a low cost but might not bring the personal touch or feedback quality that you are used to from physical conferences.

Oliver Krauss – Oliver is a researcher at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria and PHD Student at the Johannes Kepler University Linz. His work is on Genetic Improvement for Compilers and Interpreters. If you are interested in that topic or want to collaborate, feel free to drop him a mail.

Evolutionary AI site with expert podcasts and a COVID-19 intervention demo

by Risto Miikkulainen

The AI research group at Sentient has moved to Cognizant Technology solutions, and we have a new website, In particular, the earlier content, such as the video interviews with 17 academic and industry leaders on "The Future of AI", is there, as well as the "Evolution is the New Deep Learning" microsite.

Following the idea of expert interviews, the site showcases five new podcasts in the Pulse of AI series . In these podcasts, Jason Stoughton discusses topics such as biological vs. computational evolution, trustworthy AI, AutoML, demystifying AI, and open-endedness with Stephanie Forrest, Joydeep Ghosh, Babak Hodjat, Quoc Le, Risto Miikkulainen, Jordan Pollack, and Ken Stanley.

There is also a new site on decision making, featuring research on "Evolutionary Surrogate-assisted Prescription." The goal is to extend AI from predicting what will happen to prescribing what we should do about it. The idea is to first train a predictor neural network through supervised learning, and then use it as a surrogate to evolve a prescriptor neural network to make good decisions. The site features papers, visualizations, and demos on various game domains (including FlappyBird!) showing how this approach can be sample-efficient, reliable, and safe in sequential decision tasks.

A major new part of the site focuses on a COVID-19 application: It demonstrates how the same technology can be used to model the potential effects of non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) strategies to contain and mitigate the pandemic. The predictor is trained with historical data on the number of cases and the NPIs over time in various countries, i.e. restrictions on schools and workplaces, public events and gatherings, and transportation. A Pareto front of prescriptors is then evolved to discover the best tradeoffs between minimizing cases and restrictions. To illustrate this principle, the site includes an interactive demo: you can explore how, given your preferred tradeoff, the pandemic could be contained and mitigated in different countries.

We invite you to explore the site - and perhaps also bring your own expertise in AI to help deal with COVID-19!

Forthcoming evolutionary computation conferences

The organizing committee has decided that GECCO 2020 will be an electronic-only conference. Dates: July 8th-12th 2020. The Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO) presents the latest high-quality results in genetic and evolutionary computation since 1999.

Apart from the main paper and poster presentations, the program includes keynotes, tutorials, workshops, competitions and a job market.

The organizing committee have made the decision, along with guidance from the IEEE CIS Leadership, that the World Congress on Computational Intelligence (WCCI 2020) will continue as scheduled on 19-24 July, by being converted to an exciting, fully virtual conference, and will not take place physically in Glasgow. WCCI 2020 features the three flagship conferences of the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society under one roof: The 2020 International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IJCNN 2020); the 2020 IEEE International Conference on Fuzzy Systems (FUZZ-IEEE 2020); and the 2020 IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation (IEEE CEC 2020).

PPSN 2020

The organizing committee of PPSN 2020 has decided to run the conference on the dates originally scheduled, and to run it as a hybrid conference: In person for those who can come to Leiden, and online for those who cannot. Dates: September 5th-9th 2020. Parallel Problem Solving from Nature (PPSN) was originally designed to bring together researchers and practitioners in the field of Natural Computing, the study of computing approaches which are gleaned from natural models. Today, the conference series has evolved and welcomes works on all types of iterative optimization heuristics.

The organizing committee has decided to hold ANTS 2020 as an online conference. The way in which accepted papers are presented will be published in due time on the website. Dates: October 26-28, 2020. ANTS 2020 will give researchers in swarm intelligence the opportunity to meet, to present their latest research, and to discuss current developments and applications. Swarm intelligence is the discipline that deals with the study of self-organizing processes both in nature and in artificial systems. Recently, algorithms and methods inspired by these models have been proposed to solve difficult problems in many domains.

The BIOMA 2020 format will be either entirely virtual, or a mixed format of virtual and in-situ. The organizing committee is monitoring the ongoing developments and will update the website accordingly, including any discount of the fees in the case of a purely virtual event. BIOMA is a key conference specifically focusing on bioinspired optimization methods and their applications. This international conference provides an opportunity to the global research community in bioinspired optimization to discuss recent research results and develop new ideas and collaborations in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

Call for papers

In April 2021 EvoStar is comprised of four co-located conferences run each spring at different locations throughout Europe. These events arose out of workshops originally developed by EvoNet, the Network of Excellence in Evolutionary Computing, established by the Information Societies Technology Programme of the European Commission, and they represent a continuity of research collaboration stretching back over 20 years.

EvoStar is organised by SPECIES, the Society for the Promotion of Evolutionary Computation in Europe and its Surroundings. This non-profit academic society is committed to promoting evolutionary algorithmic thinking, with the inspiration of parallel algorithms derived from natural processes. It provides a forum for information and exchange.

The four conferences include

  • EuroGP 24th European Conference on Genetic Programming

  • EvoApplications 24th European Conference on the Applications of Evolutionary and bio-inspired Computation

  • EvoCOP 21st European Conference on Evolutionary Computation in Combinatorial Optimisation

  • EvoMUSART 10th International Conference (and 15th European event) on Evolutionary and Biologically Inspired Music, Sound, Art and Design

Important dates

  • Submission deadline: November 1, 2020.

  • Conference: 7 to 9 April 2021.

In September 2021 the 16th edition of FOGA will take place at the Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences in Dornbirn, Austria.

The conference series aims at advancing the understanding of the working principles behind Evolutionary Algorithms and related Randomized Search heuristics. FOGA is a premier event to discuss advances in the theoretical foundations of these algorithms, corresponding frameworks suitable to analyze them, and different aspects of comparing algorithm performance.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to: Run time analysis; Mathematical tools suitable for the analysis of search heuristics, Fitness landscapes and problem difficulty; Configuration and selection of algorithms, heuristics, operators, and parameters; Stochastic and dynamic environments, noisy evaluations; Constrained optimization; Problem representation; Complexity theory for search heuristics; Multi-objective optimization; Benchmarking; Connections between black-box optimization and machine learning.

FOGA 2021 invites submissions covering the entire spectrum of work, ranging from rigorously derived mathematical results to carefully designed empirical studies.

Important dates

  • Submission deadline: April 30, 2021

  • Author rebuttal phase: June 1 - 7, 2021

  • Notification of acceptance: June 20, 2021

  • Camera-ready submission: July 14, 2021

  • Early-registration deadline: July 14, 2021

  • Conference dates: September 6 to September 8, 2021

About this newsletter

SIGEVOlution is the newsletter of SIGEVO, the ACM Special Interest Group on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation. To join SIGEVO, please follow this link: [WWW]

We solicit contributions in the following categories:

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Editor: Gabriela Ochoa

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