3D printsJust like generations of plants and animals evolve in nature, Cornell engineers are allowing anyone online to guide the evolution of printable, three-dimensional objects, aiming to revolutionize the design of art, architecture and even artificial intelligence.

Their new, interactive website, http://EndlessForms.com/, allows users to design their own things -- from lamps and butterflies to furniture and faces -- without any technical knowledge and using the same principles that guide evolutionary biology.

The site and algorithm were developed by Jeff Clune, Jason Yosinski and Eugene Doan in the Cornell Creative Machines lab of Hod Lipson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of computing and information science. The work was published in the Proceedings of the European Conference on Artificial Life and was described by Clune at that conference Aug. 11 in Paris.

"In order to evolve truly complex things, we studied how nature makes everything from oak trees to elephants," Clune said. "Once we implemented these processes on a computer, complex shapes immediately began appearing."

Clune is also researching how combining evolution with such concepts from developmental biology can improve the design of artificially intelligent robots.