Large Language Models As Evolution Strategies

Robert Tjarko Lange, Yingtao Tian, Yujin Tang
Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence (cs.AI), Machine Learning (cs.LG), Neural and Evolutionary Computing (cs.NE)
2024-02-28 00:00:00
Large Transformer models are capable of implementing a plethora of so-called in-context learning algorithms. These include gradient descent, classification, sequence completion, transformation, and improvement. In this work, we investigate whether large language models (LLMs), which never explicitly encountered the task of black-box optimization, are in principle capable of implementing evolutionary optimization algorithms. While previous works have solely focused on language-based task specification, we move forward and focus on the zero-shot application of LLMs to black-box optimization. We introduce a novel prompting strategy, consisting of least-to-most sorting of discretized population members and querying the LLM to propose an improvement to the mean statistic, i.e. perform a type of black-box recombination operation. Empirically, we find that our setup allows the user to obtain an LLM-based evolution strategy, which we call `EvoLLM', that robustly outperforms baseline algorithms such as random search and Gaussian Hill Climbing on synthetic BBOB functions as well as small neuroevolution tasks. Hence, LLMs can act as `plug-in' in-context recombination operators. We provide several comparative studies of the LLM's model size, prompt strategy, and context construction. Finally, we show that one can flexibly improve EvoLLM's performance by providing teacher algorithm information via instruction fine-tuning on previously collected teacher optimization trajectories.
PDF: Large Language Models As Evolution Strategies.pdf
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