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Dr. Jeff Clune receives two Test of Time awards for research

Dr. Jeff Clune, a UBC computer scientist, and his collaborators, have been recognized twice over for their outstanding work in the field of artificial intelligence. 

In June 2023, they were honoured with prestigious awards: the SIGEVO Impact Award and the NORA Award for Outstanding Publication of the Decade.

SIGEVO Impact Award

The SIGEVO Impact Award celebrates papers published in the GECCO conference, the top conference in the field of evolutionary algorithms. The award acknowledges papers published a decade earlier, which are both highly cited and deemed to be seminal by the SIGEVO Executive Committee. The paper, titled "Unshackling evolution: Evolving soft robots with multiple materials and a powerful generative encoding," was authored by Nick Cheney,  Robert MacCurdy, Dr. Clune, and Hod Lipson, who all received this remarkable award. 

The paper was published in 2013 when Dr. Clune was a new assistant professor at the University of Wyoming. However, the foundational work took place during his time as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University in the Creative Machines Lab, under the guidance of Dr. Hod Lipson.

The primary objective of the ground-breaking research was to improve the results of evolutionary algorithms in designing elegant and natural robotic bodies. Inspired by the earlier work of Karl Sims and Dr. Lipson, Dr. Clune and his collaborators sought to produce a diverse range of elegant forms, including those with regularity, such as symmetry and repetition but with variation.

The impact of this paper was far-reaching, with several accolades at conferences, and now the SIGEVO Impact Award, punctuating its long-standing significance. A video of the work was an immediate hit, generating hundreds of thousands of views. The real-life applications of this work led to the design of soft robots, contributing to both mechanical engineering and the study of open questions in evolutionary biology. Additionally, members of the research team went on to 3D print soft robots that can move in the real world. 

Dr. Clune said, “We were thrilled to be able to capture the amazing expressive power of developmental biology, which produces all the marvels we see in the world like jaguars, hawks, and the human mind, and then give that power to computer algorithms to design the bodies and brains of robots and simulated creatures.”

NORA award: Outstanding Publication of the Decade

In addition to the SIGEVO Impact Award, Dr. Clune and his colleagues were also honored with the NORA (Norwegian Artificial Intelligence Research Consortium) Award for Outstanding Publication of the Decade for his paper co-authored with Kai Olav Ellefsen and Jean-Baptiste Mouret. The paper is titled "Neural modularity helps organisms evolve to learn new skills without forgetting old skills," and it was published in April, 2015. Their research explored the role of neural modularity in artificial intelligence and how it allows organisms to learn new skills without erasing previously acquired knowledge.

To win the award, at least one of the authors needed to be affiliated with a Norwegian Institution, and their influential publication needs to be from the past decade (2012 – 2022). The paper likely had a profound impact on the field of AI, as evidenced by follow-up research, citations, or attention brought to the field.

Presently, Dr. Clune's research is focused on deep reinforcement learning, improving AI and robotic cognitive capabilities, and advancing quality diversity algorithms, open-ended algorithms, and AI-generating algorithms. A recent talk he gave at MIT summarizes the work. 

Dr. Jeff Clune's contributions have had a profound impact on the field of artificial intelligence, and his innovative research continues to inspire new discoveries and advancements in this exciting field.

More about Dr. Clune