The game of life is based on the mathematical concept of cellular
automata, created by John von Neumann in the late 1940’s. The idea
behind cellular automata is that the behavior of a group can be
described by examining the interactions between an individual simple machine,
termed an automaton, and the nearby identical automata that directly interact
with it. These automata, referred to as cells, affect the cell in focus
and define that cell’s neighborhood and change depending on the rules
of interaction in the system. For example, in Conway’s Game of Life,
the neighborhood consists of the eight surrounding cells that determine
whether the cell in question will be living or dead in the following round
.
The interactions between automata
are determined by a set of rules that govern state changes. In the case
of Life, there are only two states, alive and dead, but there could easily
be many that represent different phenomena. The cellular automata itself
is a data array consisting of the same number of dimensions as the possible
number of states for each cell.
Cellular automata closely follow
the complex behavior of organic colonies in their interactions. Over time,
colonies tend to either die out, reach a stable level of organisms, maintain
a constant rate of growth, or increase and decrease in population unpredictably.
Without prior observation of a given pattern, predicting which of the
four states the pattern will settle into is extremely difficult. Another
unique characteristic is the ability of cells to self replicate, both
individually and as part of complex structures, as proven by John Von
Neumann in 1947. Von Neumann’s machine consisted of an infinite,
twodimensional grid of cells that could be in up to twentynine states
and followed a large number of complex rules. It contained several suborganisms
that gathered materials from the environment, read the instructions and
copied them, then performed the computation. Von Neumann’s machine
worked by passing on the instructions used to create an automaton as data
within the new cell. In biological cells, these instructions would be
termed DNA.
