Adaptive Computation: The Multidisciplinary Legacy of John H. Holland

Stephanie Forrest and Melanie Mitchell in Communications of the ACM:

072116_CACMpg59_John-Holland.largeAs a descendant of the cybernetics era, he was influenced by the work of John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, W. Ross Ashby, and Alan Turing, all of whom viewed computation as a broad, interdisciplinary enterprise. Holland thus became an early proponent of interdisciplinary approaches to computer science and an active evangelist of what is now called computational thinking, reaching out enthusiastically to psychologists, economists, physicists, linguists, philosophers, and pretty much anyone he came in contact with. As a result, even though he received what was arguably one of the world's first computer science Ph.D. degrees in 1959,23his contributions are sometimes better known outside computer science than within.

Holland is best known for his invention of genetic algorithms (GAs), a family of search and optimization methods inspired by biological evolution. Since their invention in the 1960s, GAs have inspired many related methods and led to the thriving field of evolutionary computation, with widespread scientific and commercial applications. Although the mechanisms and applications of GAs are well known, they were only one offshoot of Holland's broader motivation—to develop a general theory of adaptation in complex systems.

Here, we consider this larger framework, sketching the recurring themes that were central to Holland's theory of adaptive systems: discovery and dynamics in adaptive search; internal models and prediction; exploratory modeling; and universal properties of complex adaptive systems.

More here.