Lexicase selection is a parent selection method that considers training cases individually, rather than in aggregate, when performing parent selection. Whereas previous work has demonstrated the ability of lexicase selection to solve difficult problems in program synthesis and symbolic regression, the central goal of this article is to develop the theoretical underpinnings that explain its performance. To this end, we derive an analytical formula that gives the expected probabilities of selection under lexicase selection, given a population and its behavior. In addition, we expand upon the relation of lexicase selection to many-objective optimization methods to describe the behavior of lexicase selection, which is to select individuals on the boundaries of Pareto fronts in high-dimensional space. We show analytically why lexicase selection performs more poorly for certain sizes of population and training cases, and show why it has been shown to perform more poorly in continuous error spaces. To address this last concern, we propose new variants of ε-lexicase selection, a method that modifies the pass condition in lexicase selection to allow near-elite individuals to pass cases, thereby improving selection performance with continuous errors. We show that ε-lexicase outperforms several diversity–maintenance strategies on a number of real-world and synthetic regression problems.

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