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3.1 Step 1: Terminal Set

While it is common to describe GP as evolving programs, GP is not typically used to evolve programs in the familiar Turing-complete languages humans normally use for software development. It is instead more common to evolve programs (or expressions or formulae) in a more constrained and often domain-specific language. The first two preparatory steps, the definition of the terminal and function sets, specify such a language. That is, together they define the ingredients that are available to GP to create computer programs.

The terminal set may consist of:

Using a primitive such as rand can cause the behaviour of an individual program to vary every time it is called, even if it is given the same inputs. This is desirable in some applications. However, we more often want a set of fixed random constants that are generated as part of the process of initialising the population. This is typically accomplished by introducing a terminal that represents an ephemeral random constant. Every time this terminal is chosen in the construction of an initial tree (or a new subtree to use in an operation like mutation), a different random value is generated which is then used for that particular terminal, and which will remain fixed for the rest of the run. The use of ephemeral random constants is typically denoted by including the symbol in the terminal set; see Chapterá 4 for an example.


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