My News
A mugshot at the Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna

Joshua Knowles

Honorary Senior Fellow

(Previously: Professor of Natural Computation)

google scholar | researchgate


Stating things succinctly, I am interested in this question:

"How are evolution, learning and cognition connected, what do they look like algorithmically, and how can we exploit our understanding of these ideas to construct useful AI tools?"

My research is thus centrally concerned with a systems, informational or algorithmic view of nature (recognising processes of adaptation, optimisation and control) without believing such is a 'true' or complete view. I am concerned about the ethics of AI, particularly the dangerous propensity of some to believe that such algorithms as we develop as models or tools are at a stage where they are about to usher in consciousness full-blown. Indeed, in common with many other professionals in AI, I do not believe that presently any AI system has any intentionality (agency), and thus no such systems should be expected to make good "decisions" when this is meant in any nuanced sense. My early interest in AI was about how big this gap is between human or animal cognition, and computer programs, and about the mysteries therein. But it is also fascinating that you can make a good chess engine with AI, or learn to fold proteins, or 'recognise' a pulsar, or do numerous other amazing things, sometimes taking nature as inspiration.


A short list:
Artificial intelligence, evolutionary computation, multiobjective optimization, machine learning, operations research, theoretical biology (evolution, adaptation, emergence, cooperation, symbiogenesis), applied sciences.

Applied cross-disciplinary work has principally been in the bio-sciences, astrophysics, telecommunications, analytical chemistry, quantum chemistry, energy trading, upstream oil and gas, energy transition and environmental risk.

Current and former positions

I work full-time in the AI Group at SLB Cambridge Research. Previously, I was a Senior Researcher at Invenia Labs, Cambridge and prior to that I was a Professor in the School (2015-9). I spent twelve years at the University of Manchester as first a David Phillips Fellow in the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology, and then as a permanent academic in the School of Computer Science. I am also an honorary professor at Manchester in the Business School.

An incomplete list of past and ongoing research can be seen on my research pages.


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

Awards and Fellowships

  • ACM SigEvo GECCO Impact Award (2017)
  • 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 with Invenia Labs, HBOS, IBM, BioPharm, 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 (i.e. my students and I) have (or have had) collaborations with the following people -- with my 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)