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A mugshot at the Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna

Joshua Knowles

Professor of Natural Computation

Contact | Diary


The School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham has been my "home" for less than a year - since June 2015. Previously I worked for 11 years at the University of Manchester (Schools of Chemistry and Computer Science, and the Institute for Biotechnology). I still hold an honorary post at Manchester in the Alliance Manchester Business School, and typically spend some of my week there attending to ongoing projects.

Research Interests

Natural Computation, like the natural sciences, studies something happening "out there". We observe that natural systems can be seen, in various ways, to compute, and we seek to understand those processes, especially by building mathematical models or simulations. Natural systems are also used as templates for devising novel ways to compute, most notably by using evolutionary (selectionist) ideas, collective organization (as in social insects), or spontaneous pattern formation and other self-catalysing processes. The field lives within the broader discipline of artificial intelligence. My particular interest is in its application to global optimization, decision-making and learning.

Research key terms: evolutionary computation, heuristics, multiobjective optimization, combinatorial optimization, multiobjective machine learning, ensemble methods, swarm intelligence, sequential design of experiments, unsupervised learning, active learning, inverse problems, reinforcement learning, decision analysis and support, surrogate modeling, artificial life, networks, games, cross-disciplinary work in the bio-sciences.

For more specific information about what my group, collaborators and I get up to (and get up for), please see my research pages.

Some personal research highlights in the view of others (click to expand)

Hypervolume maximization (2002): "Knowles and Corne were the first to propose the integration of the hypervolume indicator into the optimization process. In particular, they described a strategy to maintain a separate bounded archive of nondominated solutions based on the hypervolume indicator", J. Bader (2009)

Multiobjective memetic algorithms (2000): "Knowles and Corne proposed a greedy local search method mainly based on dominance relation. Their idea is to accept a new neighborhood solution if it dominates the current solution... An obvious advantage of dominance relation is its independence on any monotonic transformation of objective functions." A. Jaszkiewicz et al. (2012)

Adaptive grid-based archiving (1999): "Since the procedure is adaptive, no extra parameters are required [...] . This adaptive grid (or variations of it) has been adopted by several modern multiobjective evolutionary algorithms." C. A. C. Coello (2006).

PAES algorithm (1999): "... the most competitive algorithm" [concerning scalability in decision space, and] "...the second best algorithm in terms of speed." J. J. Durillo et al. (2008), an empirical comparison of scalability of MOEAs.

Multiobjectivization (2001): "...researchers proposed the so-called 'multiobjectivization' by which a single-objective optimization problem is decomposed into several subcomponents considering a multi-objective approach (Jensen, 2003), (Knowles et al., 2001). This procedure has been found to be helpful in removing local optima from a problem and has attracted a lot of attention in the last few years." C. A. C. Coello (2006)

ParEGO (2006): "In ParEGO, the nondifferentiabilities are smoothed out by the surrogate model, making the actual EI criterion continuous and differentiable. ... For ParEGO, only one model has to be computed making it the fastest of all approaches." T. Wagner et al. (2010)
"Recently, some researchers have proposed the use of black-box optimization techniques normally adopted in engineering to perform an incredibly low number of fitness function evaluations while still producing reasonably good solutions (see for example (Knowles, 2006))." C. A. C. Coello (2006)


What's happening now? ...see My News.


BSc (Hons); PGCE; MSc (Dist'n); PhD; FHEA

Awards and Fellowships

  • Outstanding IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation Paper Award (2006)
  • BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (2002-2008)
  • FNRS Chargé de Recherche (Fellowship of the Belgian National Science Fund) (declined 2003)
  • Outstanding IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation Paper Award (2003)
  • EC Marie Curie Posdoctoral Fellowship (2001-2003)

Industrial Collaboration

My PhD was sponsored by BT. Other projects were carried out in collaboration with HBOS, Astra Zeneca, GSK, Waters, Thermo Instruments, and Combimatrix. I did a sabbatical at Theo Chocolate, Seattle and The University of Washington in 2009.

Grant Income

Latest funding:

  • European Commission, Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship: MSC-IF-EF-ST "ACTING-NOW" 704330 Krzysztof Michalak (Fellow) / Joshua Knowles (Host / PI). Algorithmic Containment of Threats in Graphs, Networks, Webs.
  • EPSRC institutional fund: Achieving the earliest diagnosis of Cancer through a cascaded computational decision support system (co-I)
  • EPSRC institutional (Manchester): Constrained global optimization for fragment-assembly approaches to protein structure prediction (co-I)

Previous funding:

  • BB/I023755/1 MUSCLE: Multi-platform Unbiased optimization of Spectrometry via Closed-Loop Experimentation (PI)
  • BB/C008219/1 MCISB: The Manchester Centre for Integrative Systems Biology (co-I)
  • BBS/A/00013 BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship: Interactive evolutionary search for post-genomic knowledge discovery and prediction using GRID computing (PI)
  • BB/C007158/1 Constrained optimisation of metabolic and signalling pathway models: towards an understanding of the language of cells (co-I)
  • BB/C519038/1 HUSERMET: The human serum metabolome in health and disease (co-I)
  • EP/D013615/1 A convergent strategy for high efficiency quantitative proteomics (co-I)


We have (had) collaborations with the following people (with apologies for any omissions).
  • David Corne (Heriot-Watt)
  • Julia Handl (Manchester Business School, UoM)
  • Douglas Kell (Manchester Institute for Biotechnology, UoM)
  • Richard Allmendinger (UCL)
  • Steve O'Hagan (MIB, UoM)
  • Ben Stappers (Jodrell Bank, UoM)
  • John Brooke (IMG / Research Computing Services, UoM)
  • Richard A. Watson (Southampton)
  • Carlos Fonseca (U. Coimbra)
  • Eckart Zitzler (PH Bern)
  • Lothar Thiele (ETH Zurich)
  • Manuel Lopez-Ibanez (IRIDIA, Code, Brussels)
  • Marco Laumanns (IBM)
  • Mark Viant (Biological Sciences, U. Birmingham)
  • Warwick Dunn (Biological Sciences, U. Birmingham)
  • Shan He (Computer Science, U. Birmingham)
  • Robert Synovec (University of Washington, Seattle)
  • Andy McShea (Theo Chocolate, Seattle)
  • Liz Humston (University of Washington, Seattle)
  • Leonora Bianchi (IDSIA)
  • Will Rowe (Faculty of Life Sciences, UoM)
  • Mark Platt (Loughborough)
  • Chris Knight (Faculty of Life Sciences, UoM)
  • Philip J. Day (School of Chemistry / MIB, UoM)
  • David Wedge (Sanger Institute)
  • Martin Brown (Control Systems Centre, EEE, UoM)
  • David Brough (Faculty of Life Sciences, UoM)
  • Ben Small (Faculty of Life Sciences, UoM)
  • Pedro Mendes (School of Computer Science / MIB)
  • Nancy Rothwell (Faculty of Life Sciences, UoM)
  • Marco Dorigo (IRIDIA, Free University of Brussels)
  • Norman Paton (School of Computer Science, UoM)
  • Sandra Sampaio (School of Computer Science, UoM)
  • Ludi Mikhailov (Manchester Business School, UoM)
  • Paul Popelier (School of Chemistry / MIB, UoM)
  • Roy Goodacre (School of Chemistry / MIB, UoM)
  • Robin Purshouse (Sheffield)
  • Shaul Salomon (Sheffield)
  • Valentina di Pietro (Medical School, UoB)
  • Andrew Peet (Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, UoB)
  • Georgios Gkoutos (Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, UoB)