The Room Do I dare disturb the universe?

Mutant Weasels

Mutant Weasels

I was reading a blog post recently that mentioned the Dawkins Weasel program. I have always wanted to play around with Genetic Algorithms and this one seemed simple enough to hack at for a few hours. Four hours later I think I have something that can illustrate Modern Moose nicely ( Spacecataz this is specifically for you, seduce you back away from Python). NOTE: I have re-arranged some stuff to make this discussion a little easier. The source code will show the right order and will run properly.

#!/usr/bin/env perl
use 5.10.0;
use MooseX::Declare;

Like any good perl modern script we start out with a #! line, state that we’re gonna use a Modern Perl (5.10+), and we’re gonna use some of the new sugary syntax from MooseX::Declare

Now in the code I pilfered the algorithm from we have some global parameters. Matt Trout likes to call Singleton objects “God” objects, so we’ll just borrow that nomenclature here. Technically this isn’t a Singleton either, but we’re gonna abuse things a bit for the sake of a pun.

class GOD {
    use constant TARGET        => 'METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL';
    use constant MUTATION_RATE => 0.09;

    sub DEFAULT_STRING() { join '', map { RANDOM_LETTER() } 0..(length TARGET) -1 }
    sub RANDOM_LETTER() { ( 'A' .. 'Z', ' ' )[ rand(27) ] }

DEFAULT_STRING and RANDOM_LETTER are some utility methods we’ll use in a bit.

So now that we have God we can create the World. Our World is basically a container for evolving generations of objects (in our case Weasels). We have a small world, it can only hold 50 Weasels at a time.

class World {
    use constant SIZE => 50;

Our world is also a harsh mistress, there can only be one generation alive at a time. (Though all is not lost as we’ll see, Weasels can worship their ancestors). We keep an ArrayRef of Weasels around.

    use MooseX::AttributeHelpers;
    has current_generation => (
        isa        => 'ArrayRef[Weasel]',
        is         => 'rw',
        auto_deref => 1,
        builder    => 'first_generation',
        metaclass  => 'Collection::List',
        provides   => {
            first => 'best',

We’re useing MooseX::AttributeHelpers to provide us with a simple helper method that returns the “best” Weasel in each generation. We know its the best because our world keeps Weasels sorted by their fitness.

    sub _generate (&) {
        [ sort { $a->fitness <=> $b->fitness } map { $_[0]->() } 1 .. SIZE ];
    method first_generation {  _generate { Weasel->new }    }
    method new_generation {
         $self->current_generation( _generate { $self->best->spawn } );

There are two times we want to generate a new generation of Weasels, at the dawn of the world when the current_generation attribute is first initalized, and when we call new_generation. At initalization we create an Ur-Weasel, every other time we let the best Weasel of it’s generation breed. It’s good to be fit.

So now that we’ve covered how generations work, the Way the world run’s should be obvious. Keep generating new_generations until the Kwisatz Haderach is born.

    method run {
        $self->new_generation() until $self->perfect_offspring;

How do we know when we have perfect offspring? When the best of our generation is perfect.

    method perfect_offspring { $self->best->perfect }

Finally so that the runtime isn’t totally boring waiting for the world to end, we use a method modifier to tack on some output letting us know who the best in each generation is.

    after new_generation { say $self->best->to_string };

So let’s look at the population of our world. Ah the Weasel, the most quintessential of GOD’s creations. Weasel’s do one thing in life, they breed mutants. So our Weasel class composes the Role NonLockingMutations which we’ll gloss over for a bit and just say “Weasels can evolve”.

class Weasel with NonLockingMutations {

Now I said before that Weasels have a strong sense of ancestory, even though the World only knows about one generation of Weasel at a time, each weasel knows exactly who it’s parent was, and what generation they belong to.

    has parent     => ( isa => 'Weasel', is => 'ro', );
    has generation => ( isa => 'Int',    is => 'rw', builder => 'my_generation' );

    method my_generation {
        return 0 unless $self->parent;
        $self->parent->generation + 1;

They also have a little genetic string. Which they inherit from their parent (unless they’re the Ur-Weasel in which case they get it from GOD).

    has string     => ( isa => 'Str',    is => 'ro', lazy_build => 1 );
    method _build_string {
        return $self->inherit_string if $self->parent;
        return GOD::DEFAULT_STRING;

Finally Weasels can breed, they each have one child and teach it who its parent is, and they know how to tell the World about themselves.

    method spawn { Weasel->new( parent => $self ) }
    method to_string {
        "${\sprintf('%04d', $self->generation)}:${ \$self->string } (${\sprintf('%02d', $self->fitness)})";

Now we get to the interesting part of this, the reason we created our own little universe. Weasels would never become perfect if they couldn’t Mutate.

role Mutations {
    requires qw(string parent mutate);

In our universe fitness is determined by the Levenshtein distance of the Weasels string from GOD’s target.

    use Text::LevenshteinXS qw(distance);
    has fitness => ( isa => 'Int', is => 'rw', lazy_build => 1 );
    method _build_fitness { distance( $self->string, GOD::TARGET() ) }    

We know we’re perfect when our distance from GODs TARGET (our fitness) is 0.

    method perfect { $self->fitness == 0 }

Mutations are also where we inherit strings from our parents. Strings are never inherited cleanly, there’s always a chance at mutation. That chance however depends on the mutation mechanism we’re using

    method inherit_string {
        return join '', map { $self->mutate($_) }
            0..(length $self->parent->string) - 1;

Mutations in our world come in two flavors, Non Locking Mutations mean every character is free to mutate no matter if it already matches the corresponding character in the TARGET. Locking Mutations don’t change characters that already match.

Here are the implementations for each, they’re pretty straight forward, and mostly the same. If we haven’t been hit by a cosmic beam (ie a random number is less than GODs MUTATION_RATE), return that character unmodified. Otherwise return a new random character.

role NonLockingMutations with Mutations {
    sub mutate {
        my $target = substr($_[0]->parent->string, $_[1], 1);
        return $target unless rand() < GOD::MUTATION_RATE;
        return GOD::RANDOM_LETTER;

The only thing that LockingMutations changes on this is if we already match GODs TARGET, return the current character.

role LockingMutations with Mutations {
    sub mutate {        
        my $target = substr($_[0]->parent->string, $_[1], 1);
        return $target if $target eq substr(GOD::TARGET, $_[1],1);
        return $target unless rand() < GOD::MUTATION_RATE;
        return GOD::RANDOM_LETTER;

That’s it, everything is implemented. We start the world running and see our results