- a genetic representation of the solution domain,
- a fitness function to evaluate the solution domain.
- A solution is found that satisfies minimum criteria
- Fixed number of generations reached
- Allocated budget (computation time/money) reached
- The highest ranking solution's fitness is reaching or has reached a plateau such that successive iterations no longer produce better results
- Manual inspection
- Combinations of the above
The building block hypothesis
- A description of a heuristic that performs adaptation by identifying and recombining "building blocks", i.e. low order, low defining-length schemata with above average fitness.
- A hypothesis that a genetic algorithm performs adaptation by implicitly and efficiently implementing this heuristic.
- "Short, low order, and highly fit schemata are sampled, recombined [crossed over], and resampled to form strings of potentially higher fitness. In a way, by working with these particular schemata [the building blocks], we have reduced the complexity of our problem; instead of building high-performance strings by trying every conceivable combination, we construct better and better strings from the best partial solutions of past samplings.
- "Because highly fit schemata of low defining length and low order play such an important role in the action of genetic algorithms, we have already given them a special name: building blocks. Just as a child creates magnificent fortresses through the arrangement of simple blocks of wood, so does a genetic algorithm seek near optimal performance through the juxtaposition of short, low-order, high-performance schemata, or building blocks."
- Repeated fitness function evaluation for complex problems is often the most prohibitive and limiting segment of artificial evolutionary algorithms. Finding the optimal solution to complex high-dimensional, multimodal problems often requires very expensive fitness function evaluations. In real world problems such as structural optimization problems, a single function evaluation may require several hours to several days of complete simulation. Typical optimization methods cannot deal with such types of problem. In this case, it may be necessary to forgo an exact evaluation and use an approximated fitness that is computationally efficient. It is apparent that amalgamation of approximate models may be one of the most promising approaches to convincingly use GA to solve complex real life problems.
- Genetic algorithms do not scale well with complexity. That is, where the number of elements which are exposed to mutation is large there is often an exponential increase in search space size. This makes it extremely difficult to use the technique on problems such as designing an engine, a house or a plane. In order to make such problems tractable to evolutionary search, they must be broken down into the simplest representation possible. Hence we typically see evolutionary algorithms encoding designs for fan blades instead of engines, building shapes instead of detailed construction plans, and airfoils instead of whole aircraft designs. The second problem of complexity is the issue of how to protect parts that have evolved to represent good solutions from further destructive mutation, particularly when their fitness assessment requires them to combine well with other parts.
- The "better" solution is only in comparison to other solutions. As a result, the stop criterion is not clear in every problem.
- In many problems, GAs have a tendency to converge towards local optima or even arbitrary points rather than the global optimum of the problem. This means that it does not "know how" to sacrifice short-term fitness to gain longer-term fitness. The likelihood of this occurring depends on the shape of the fitness landscape: certain problems may provide an easy ascent towards a global optimum, others may make it easier for the function to find the local optima. This problem may be alleviated by using a different fitness function, increasing the rate of mutation, or by using selection techniques that maintain a diverse population of solutions, although the No Free Lunch theorem proves that there is no general solution to this problem. A common technique to maintain diversity is to impose a "niche penalty", wherein, any group of individuals of sufficient similarity (niche radius) have a penalty added, which will reduce the representation of that group in subsequent generations, permitting other (less similar) individuals to be maintained in the population. This trick, however, may not be effective, depending on the landscape of the problem. Another possible technique would be to simply replace part of the population with randomly generated individuals, when most of the population is too similar to each other. Diversity is important in genetic algorithms (and genetic programming) because crossing over a homogeneous population does not yield new solutions. In evolution strategies and evolutionary programming, diversity is not essential because of a greater reliance on mutation.
- Operating on dynamic data sets is difficult, as genomes begin to converge early on towards solutions which may no longer be valid for later data. Several methods have been proposed to remedy this by increasing genetic diversity somehow and preventing early convergence, either by increasing the probability of mutation when the solution quality drops (called triggered hypermutation), or by occasionally introducing entirely new, randomly generated elements into the gene pool (called random immigrants). Again, evolution strategies and evolutionary programming can be implemented with a so-called "comma strategy" in which parents are not maintained and new parents are selected only from offspring. This can be more effective on dynamic problems.
- GAs cannot effectively solve problems in which the only fitness measure is a single right/wrong measure (like decision problems), as there is no way to converge on the solution (no hill to climb). In these cases, a random search may find a solution as quickly as a GA. However, if the situation allows the success/failure trial to be repeated giving (possibly) different results, then the ratio of successes to failures provides a suitable fitness measure.
- For specific optimization problems and problem instances, other optimization algorithms may be more efficient than genetic algorithms in terms of speed of convergence. Alternative and complementary algorithms include evolution strategies, evolutionary programming, simulated annealing, Gaussian adaptation, hill climbing, and swarm intelligence (e.g.: ant colony optimization, particle swarm optimization) and methods based on integer linear programming. The suitability of genetic algorithms is dependent on the amount of knowledge of the problem; well known problems often have better, more specialized approaches.
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- Evolution strategies (ES, see Rechenberg, 1994) evolve individuals by means of mutation and intermediate or discrete recombination. ES algorithms are designed particularly to solve problems in the real-value domain. They use self-adaptation to adjust control parameters of the search. De-randomization of self-adaptation has led to the contemporary Covariance Matrix Adaptation Evolution Strategy (CMA-ES).
- Evolutionary programming (EP) involves populations of solutions with primarily mutation and selection and arbitrary representations. They use self-adaptation to adjust parameters, and can include other variation operations such as combining information from multiple parents.
- Estimation of Distribution Algorithm (EDA) substitutes traditional reproduction operators by model-guided operators. Such models are learned from the population by employing machine learning techniques and represented as Probabilistic Graphical Models, from which new solutions can be sampled or generated from guided-crossover.
- Gene expression programming (GEP) also uses populations of computer programs. These complex computer programs are encoded in simpler linear chromosomes of fixed length, which are afterwards expressed as expression trees. Expression trees or computer programs evolve because the chromosomes undergo mutation and recombination in a manner similar to the canonical GA. But thanks to the special organization of GEP chromosomes, these genetic modifications always result in valid computer programs.
- Genetic programming (GP) is a related technique popularized by John Koza in which computer programs, rather than function parameters, are optimized. Genetic programming often uses tree-based internal data structures to represent the computer programs for adaptation instead of the list structures typical of genetic algorithms.
- Grouping genetic algorithm (GGA) is an evolution of the GA where the focus is shifted from individual items, like in classical GAs, to groups or subset of items. The idea behind this GA evolution proposed by Emanuel Falkenauer is that solving some complex problems, a.k.a. clustering or partitioning problems where a set of items must be split into disjoint group of items in an optimal way, would better be achieved by making characteristics of the groups of items equivalent to genes. These kind of problems include bin packing, line balancing, clustering with respect to a distance measure, equal piles, etc., on which classic GAs proved to perform poorly. Making genes equivalent to groups implies chromosomes that are in general of variable length, and special genetic operators that manipulate whole groups of items. For bin packing in particular, a GGA hybridized with the Dominance Criterion of Martello and Toth, is arguably the best technique to date.
- Interactive evolutionary algorithms are evolutionary algorithms that use human evaluation. They are usually applied to domains where it is hard to design a computational fitness function, for example, evolving images, music, artistic designs and forms to fit users' aesthetic preference.
- Ant colony optimization (ACO) uses many ants (or agents) equipped with a pheromone model to traverse the solution space and find locally productive areas. Although considered an Estimation of distribution algorithm,
- Particle swarm optimization (PSO) is a computational method for multi-parameter optimization which also uses population-based approach. A population (swarm) of candidate solutions (particles) moves in the search space, and the movement of the particles is influenced both by their own best known position and swarm's global best known position. Like genetic algorithms, the PSO method depends on information sharing among population members. In some problems the PSO is often more computationally efficient than the GAs, especially in unconstrained problems with continuous variables.
Other evolutionary computing algorithms
- Electimize algorithm is an evolutionary algorithm that simulates the phenomenon of electron flow and electrical conductivity. Some current research showed Electimize to be more efficient in solving NP-hard optimization problems than traditional evolutionary algorithms. The algorithm provides higher capacity in searching the solution space extensively, and identifying global optimal alternatives. Unlike other evolutionary algorithms, Electimize evaluates the quality of the values in the solution string independently. 
- Memetic algorithm (MA), often called hybrid genetic algorithm among others, is a population-based method in which solutions are also subject to local improvement phases. The idea of memetic algorithms comes from memes, which unlike genes, can adapt themselves. In some problem areas they are shown to be more efficient than traditional evolutionary algorithms.
- Bacteriologic algorithms (BA) inspired by evolutionary ecology and, more particularly, bacteriologic adaptation. Evolutionary ecology is the study of living organisms in the context of their environment, with the aim of discovering how they adapt. Its basic concept is that in a heterogeneous environment, there is not one individual that fits the whole environment. So, one needs to reason at the population level. It is also believed BAs could be successfully applied to complex positioning problems (antennas for cell phones, urban planning, and so on) or data mining.
- Cultural algorithm (CA) consists of the population component almost identical to that of the genetic algorithm and, in addition, a knowledge component called the belief space.
- Differential search algorithm (DS) inspired by migration of superorganisms.
- Gaussian adaptation (normal or natural adaptation, abbreviated NA to avoid confusion with GA) is intended for the maximisation of manufacturing yield of signal processing systems. It may also be used for ordinary parametric optimisation. It relies on a certain theorem valid for all regions of acceptability and all Gaussian distributions. The efficiency of NA relies on information theory and a certain theorem of efficiency. Its efficiency is defined as information divided by the work needed to get the information. Because NA maximises mean fitness rather than the fitness of the individual, the landscape is smoothed such that valleys between peaks may disappear. Therefore it has a certain "ambition" to avoid local peaks in the fitness landscape. NA is also good at climbing sharp crests by adaptation of the moment matrix, because NA may maximise the disorder (average information) of the Gaussian simultaneously keeping the mean fitness constant.
Other metaheuristic methods
- Simulated annealing (SA) is a related global optimization technique that traverses the search space by testing random mutations on an individual solution. A mutation that increases fitness is always accepted. A mutation that lowers fitness is accepted probabilistically based on the difference in fitness and a decreasing temperature parameter. In SA parlance, one speaks of seeking the lowest energy instead of the maximum fitness. SA can also be used within a standard GA algorithm by starting with a relatively high rate of mutation and decreasing it over time along a given schedule.
- Tabu search (TS) is similar to simulated annealing in that both traverse the solution space by testing mutations of an individual solution. While simulated annealing generates only one mutated solution, tabu search generates many mutated solutions and moves to the solution with the lowest energy of those generated. In order to prevent cycling and encourage greater movement through the solution space, a tabu list is maintained of partial or complete solutions. It is forbidden to move to a solution that contains elements of the tabu list, which is updated as the solution traverses the solution space.
- Extremal optimization (EO) Unlike GAs, which work with a population of candidate solutions, EO evolves a single solution and makes local modifications to the worst components. This requires that a suitable representation be selected which permits individual solution components to be assigned a quality measure ("fitness"). The governing principle behind this algorithm is that of emergent improvement through selectively removing low-quality components and replacing them with a randomly selected component. This is decidedly at odds with a GA that selects good solutions in an attempt to make better solutions.
Other stochastic optimisation methods
- The cross-entropy (CE) method generates candidates solutions via a parameterized probability distribution. The parameters are updated via cross-entropy minimization, so as to generate better samples in the next iteration.
- Reactive search optimization (RSO) advocates the integration of sub-symbolic machine learning techniques into search heuristics for solving complex optimization problems. The word reactive hints at a ready response to events during the search through an internal online feedback loop for the self-tuning of critical parameters. Methodologies of interest for Reactive Search include machine learning and statistics, in particular reinforcement learning, active or query learning, neural networks, and metaheuristics.