Stephanie Forrest (Image: Arizona State University)

Repairing software bugs can be an expensive business. Ten years ago, Stephanie Forrest, director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Center for Biocomputing, Security and Society and SFI External Professor, co-authored a paper reporting a practical demonstration of using biological processes like evolution to find and repair software bugs. 

The 2009 paper “Automatically Finding Patches Using Genetic Programming,” (DOI: 10.1109/ICSE.2009.5070536) was recognized as the Ten-Year Most Influential Paper at the 41st International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) in Montreal, held May 25–31. The award is presented at each ICSE meeting to the authors of the paper from the ICSE meeting 10 years prior “that is judged to have had the most influence on the theory or practice of software engineering during the 10 years since its original publication.” Forrest’s paper has been cited more than 553 times.

Genetic programming applies random mutations to buggy code, then tests the resulting variants until a program that can repair the bug evolves. The approach gives human developers a head start and can drastically reduce the amount of time spent manually debugging. 

“The surprising success of our initial work has led us to ask questions about how software is produced and evolved over time, focusing on the very biology-like properties that software seems to have acquired,” Forrest said in an ASU press release.

Read the full press release from Arizona State University.