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IMO, you should go away from the god-like situation to perscribe a set of
mutation options, in the first place. Your pickers may evolve in quite
unexpected directions if left to themselves - you should introduce a
mecahnism for them to do so and wait for several hundred iterations to see
the results if you want the maximum gain in knowledge - as they did with E
Coli. This is the first stage of freeing your mind from algorithmic
thinking patterns, and to develop bottom up, you would need such freedom.
I think the vital concept in such case is introducing some context
processing mechanism - like the one people adopt when learning languages.
If you are not very good in a foreign lanuage, an amazing parallel
learning mechanism may occur - when reading about the subject, you grasp
new words, and are able to use them to read about the subject in more
To get the analogy, your pickers should have "instincts" on what's good
for their purposes - in this case survival (intrinsic rules that may
mutate as well), and the environment should be left to change too,
unpredictably and free of any limitations as long as it obeys some few
rules. This way, the pickers can learn by evaluating the environment (e.g.
look at the soil and decide in which direction to go basing on their
vision results plus the expectation of a better harvest, say, in the
east), and develop learning communities/collaborate if this suits them.
To be more concrete on how to make your pickers more intelligent, you
probably ought to read classical AI, especially neural networks, cognitive
science and culturology - I found delight in AI myself some years ago, and
can give you a reference to a coherent, easy-to-comprehend cognitive
simulation set-up from my country (Bulgaria) called DUAL which I don't
follow closely anymore but it may suit you as a starting point for
community building architectures .
In terms of the DUAL model, you still struggle with the micro-level ;-)
while its architecture also allows for meso level (the equivalent of a
tribe as far as I can see), and macro level (big formations of agents -
whole societies). The DUAL agents are richer than you pickers in that they
may belong to different classes (e.g. cups and saucers, or liquid-holders
consisting of teapots, cups, glasses and bottles) and have, consequently,
more "tags" than the ones you introduced so far in your vineyard, namely
properties specific to each class of agent and common properties for all
agents, "slots" to express hierarchies, etc. They process knowledge not
only single but also in a network, and the knowledge of each agent may be
processed by the network (group/society) if this agent is filled with
energy and has therefore the properties of visibility and speed. The
patterns of activation and activity levels for the existing agents change
with each run - just like your stylesheet processing.
All in all, given the emerging technology, I would be very curious whether
you can (and would want to) re-build this architecture in XML as a
continuation of the work you started - I still believe it's worth