John Henry Holland, a computer scientist who developed codes that mimicked evolutionary processes, has died, the New York Times reports. He was 86.
While at the University of Michigan as a graduate student, Holland happened upon a book by statistician and evolutionary biologist R. A. Fisher that showed that biological systems, including how a colony of butterflies moved, could be described mathematically.
"The fact that you could take calculus and differential equations and all the other things I had learned in my math classes to start a revolution in genetics — that was a real eye opener," Holland told M. Mitchell Waldrop, the author of "Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos," as the Times notes. "Once I saw that, I knew I could never let it go."
Holland developed an algorithm that the Times calls "a computer version of the survival of the fittest" as it simulated evolutionary processes through mating and mutations to find possible solutions and then used those solutions to find the best possible results.
"John is rather unique in that he took ideas from evolutionary biology in order to transform search and optimization in computer science, and then he took what he discovered in computer science and allowed us to rethink evolutionary dynamics," says David Krakauer from the Santa Fe Institute in a statement. "This kind of rigorous translation between two communities of thought is a characteristic of very deep minds."