We tend to think of altruism--doing good for others even when doing so is against our own self-interest--as a behavior that is primarily motivated by "irrational emotions," religious study, or fear of punishment.
Nowhere is the ideological notion of "irrational" altruism more evident than in conservative criticisms of revolutionary socialism. "Communism is a noble dream," they say, "But it goes against human nature." Greed and self-preservation are hard coded into our DNA, and we are utterly incapable of altering our own genetic programming to stop it.
Evolving robots spontaneously emerge altruistic behavior
Self-modifying software "robots" in an evolutionary computing simulation independently developed altruistic behaviors; that is, some of the cellular automata sacrificed themselves for the benefit of their relations.
Once the team was comfortable with the virtual evolution environment it had set up, it added a new twist: It allowed the robots to share food disks with each other. If Hamilton's hypothesis was correct, "successful" virtual robots were likely to be those that were closely related and shared food with each other; that would help to ensure that at least one of them -- and some of the genes of both--would make it to the next round. (Two robots with a modest amount of food disks would both be more likely to be cut from the simulation, but if one robot gave all of its food to a second robot, that second robot would likely make the next round.) And indeed, altruism quickly evolved in the simulation, with greater food-sharing in groups where robots were more related, the researchers report online today in PLoS Biology. The more closely related the robots, the quicker they cooperated. "It shows how general the [theory] is, whether you are an insect, a human or a robot," says Floreano.