The origins of Life can be traced back to the 1940’s when American
mathematician John
Von Neumann began exploring the idea of a universal constructor; a
program that has the ability to process data and automatically replicate
itself. To explore this problem, Von Neumann created a discrete game for
which each generation’s cell state is determined by the neighboring
cell’s status on a twodimensional grid of square cells for which
each cell could have as many as 29 different states. This universal constructor
fascinated British mathematician John Conway, and caused him to begin
doing his own research on another computable discrete universe based on
Alan Turing’s
notion of a “universal computer”; a machine capable of imitating
any computational process through implementations based on a set of short
instructions. Thus Conway began his search for a simplified set of rules
and states, a “simple universe” capable of computation. After
experimenting with various setups on a twodimensional grid, he found
a suitable set of rules that achieved a balance between extinction and
infinite cellular expansion and he named these rules the Game of Life.
In the October
1970 issue of Scientific American, an article
was published which described the game and provided challenges to the
readers. This article in the nation’s premier scientific source popularized
Conway’s findings throughout the scientific community and thus lead
to the rapid development in the exploration of Life and as it applies
to other fields of cellular automata. With the advent of the computer
age, and the development of more powerful computers, thanks to Moore’s
Law and advances in processor design, the Life universe has continued
to intrigue and perplex minds all across the globe as it expands in the
discovery of new exciting configurations and oscillators and also as the
number of possible applications increases.
The Game of Life
is not a traditional “game.” There are no winners or losers
in Life nor are there any set objectives or strategies to achieve victory.
It is not a board game or video game, but this does not mean that it was
poorly designed. Rather to the contrary, it is a wonderfully designed
and extremely fascinating game that has the potential to explain questions
as vast as the emergence of life.
Conway’s
Life
John Horton Conway was born in Liverpool England in 1937. Even at a young
age, Conway expressed immense talent in the fields of mathematics. He
went to college at the University of Cambridge where he studied number
theory and logic, and eventually became a mathematics professor there.
Conway wrote numerous books including Winning Ways for Your Mathematical
Plays. Conway’s numerous contributions to mathematics include the
study of principles underlying finite and transfinite numbers, symmetries
of geometric objects, and cellular automata including the creation of
the Game of Life. Later, Conway moved to teach mathematics at Princeton
University, where he currently resides.
