Clever Algorithms: Nature-Inspired Programming Recipes

By Jason Brownlee PhD

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About the book

The need for this project was born of frustration while working towards my PhD. I was investigating optimization algorithms and was implementing a large number of them for a software platform called the Optimization Algorithm Toolkit (OAT) (OAT located at Each algorithm required considerable effort to locate the relevant source material (from books, papers, articles, and existing implementations), decipher and interpret the technique, and finally attempt to piece together a working implementation.

Taking a broader perspective, I realized that the communication of algorithmic techniques in the field of Artificial Intelligence was clearly a difficult and outstanding open problem. Generally, algorithm descriptions are:

  • Incomplete: many techniques are ambiguously described, partially described, or not described at all.
  • Inconsistent: a given technique may be described using a variety of formal and semi-formal methods that vary across different techniques, limiting the transferability of background skills an audience requires to read a technique (such as mathematics, pseudocode, program code, and narratives). An inconsistent representation for techniques means that the skills used to understand and internalize one technique may not be transferable to realizing different techniques or even extensions of the same technique.
  • Distributed: the description of data structures, operations, and parameterization of a given technique may span a collection of papers, articles, books, and source code published over a number of years, the access to which may be restricted and difficult to obtain.

For the practitioner, a badly described algorithm may be simply frustrating, where the gaps in available information are filled with intuition and 'best guess'. At the other end of the spectrum, a badly described algorithm may be an example of bad science and the failure of the scientific method, where the inability to understand and implement a technique may prevent the replication of results, the application, or the investigation and extension of a technique.

The software I produced provided a first step solution to this problem: a set of working algorithms implemented in a (somewhat) consistent way and downloaded from a single location (features likely provided by any library of artificial intelligence techniques). The next logical step needed to address this problem is to develop a methodology that anybody can follow. The strategy to address the open problem of poor algorithm communication is to present complete algorithm descriptions (rather than just implementations) in a consistent manner, and in a centralized location. This book is the outcome of developing such a strategy that not only provides a methodology for standardized algorithm descriptions, but provides a large corpus of complete and consistent algorithm descriptions in a single centralized location.

The algorithms described in this work are practical, interesting, and fun, and the goal of this project was to promote these features by making algorithms from the field more accessible, usable, and understandable. This project was developed over a number years through a lot of writing, discussion, and revision. This book has been released under a permissive license that encourages the reader to explore new and creative ways of further communicating its message and content.

I hope that this project has succeeded in some small way and that you too can enjoy applying, learning, and playing with Clever Algorithms.

Jason Brownlee

Melbourne, Australia

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