Gene duplication has generally been viewed as a necessary source of material for the origin of evolutionary novelties, but it is unclear how often gene duplicates arise and how frequently they evolve new functions. Observations from the genomic databases for several eukaryotic species suggest that duplicate genes arise at a very high rate, on average 0.01 per gene per million years. Most duplicated genes experience a brief period of relaxed selection early in their history, with a moderate fraction of them evolving in an effectively neutral manner during this period. However, the vast majority of gene duplicates are silenced within a few million years, with the few survivors subsequently experiencing strong purifying selection. Although duplicate genes may only rarely evolve new functions, the stochastic silencing of such genes may play a significant role in the passive origin of new species.