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CFINO: "Cellular Automata: Simple Laws that Create Complex Things"

Join us for a special interactive presentation by longtime CFT member Morgan Adams at Center for Inquiry Northeast Ohio's May Cleveland chapter meeting.

Morgan is an interactive designer and owner of Adams Immersive. His program is titled Cellular Automata: Simple Laws that Create Complex Things

A “cellular automaton” is a game-like set of rules for pieces placed on a grid of square (or other shape) “cells.” Each turn, the pieces move according to automatic, unchanging rules.

Mathematicians have discovered very simple cellular rule sets that do surprisingly complex things! But you won’t need any math to see them in action. This presentation will let you try two cellular automata “games” for yourself (Conway’s Game of Life and Rule 30) and see the unexpected results:

• A simple starting point can transform the game pieces into active structures such as “spaceships,” “blinkers,” and “factories” that live, die, collide, and evolve into new patterns.

• Cellular automata can explain complex patterns in nature, such as the designs on a seashell. 

• Cellular automata can simulate any computing algorithm.

• Cellular automata prove that simple laws can spontaneously create complex mechanisms out of unplanned randomness. This is an analogy for the evolution of life and the formation of our universe: complex systems which at first glance may seem impossible to result from natural laws alone.

Optional—bring (or make) the following to try the “games” for yourself:

• A chess board or other grid (at least 5x5) big enough to fit two pieces per square (stacking them is OK).

• At least 10 coins, checkers, bottle caps or other game pieces. Bring two kinds, 5 of each (different sizes, shapes, colors, or anything easy to tell apart).

As usual, light refreshments will be served. See you there! :)

Join or login to comment.

  • Roni & Elliott B.

    I enjoyed the presentation very much - learned some new stuff. Morgan is so knowledgeable and knows how to pass his knowledge on.

    1 · May 17, 2014

  • Marni H.

    Excellent job, Morgan! Great talk - fun and interactive! You're a great presenter :)

    May 17, 2014

  • Dale

    Loved it. Fascinating subject and good speaker. Wish I could learn more about it and do more with it, but I don't know what that would be. Could we go more into this at a later date?

    May 17, 2014

  • Mark T.

    Very cool and interesting topic. Great presentation Morgan, thanks for doing it!

    May 16, 2014

  • Morgan

    Some links to learn more:

    Golly open source “sandbox” for many different CAs’:

    Cellular Automata overview/history

    Emergent behavior

    Conway’s Life glossary

    Specific CA we looked at:

    Von Neumann’s Universal Constructor (the first)

    John Conway’s Game of Life (the one we looked at the most)'s_Game_of_Life

    Wireworld (electronics and logic)

    Rule 30 (1-dimensional, like seashell)

    Evoloop (evolution and competition)'s_loops#Comparison_of_related_CA_loops

    1 · May 15, 2014

    • Jack J

      Numberphile has a few good videos re: Conway's Life. Including one with an interview of him.

      1 · May 15, 2014

  • Morgan

    Some of us will be eating nearby afterwards (probably Aladdin's if they're still open). A chance to continue any discussion, too.

    May 14, 2014

    • Hong W.

      Wish I could have joined you, but I could never last that long on a week day.

      May 15, 2014

  • Hong W.

    It was great! The lecture was very enlightening. Even though I am not in the field of gaming or programming, I am always looking for new ideas and different ways of thinking.

    4 · May 15, 2014

  • Suzy W.

    Thank you, Morgan for this very interesting topic! You did a wonderful job presenting and explaining it!

    3 · May 14, 2014

    • Morgan

      You're welcome! Thanks for coming, everyone--and for raising up such interesting questions and topics to discuss.

      2 · May 14, 2014

  • Valerie

    Dang! I didn't see the conversation about dinner until now, and coincidentally thought about going to Aladdin's as well. I'm coming from Twinsburg via 271, so I will probably be there around 6pm.

    May 14, 2014

    • Valerie

      (scratch that, there's accidents on the freeway. Will be coming up SOM Center)

      May 14, 2014

  • Hong W.

    I did not get any response for the dinner tonight, and I am actually hungry now. So I am going to the Mexican place now. See u guys at the lecture !

    May 14, 2014

  • Jack J

    Apologies, but wife has surprise tickets to a show at House of Blues. So I've got a date I didn't know about. This looked like really good talk too, but surprise date.

    Have fun.

    May 13, 2014

    • Morgan

      Good reason! I'll post some links here afterward for anyone interested in reading more.

      May 14, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hopefully I'll make it. Rain may have me out.

    May 13, 2014

  • Morgan

    If anyone wants to try the 3 hands-on exercises but can't come up with a grid or game board to bring, just draw a 5x5 grid on a piece of paper. (You can even use pencil marks for the pieces, if you don't mind a lot of erasing.)

    And for the PIECES, you'll only need FIVE of each type (any 2 different kinds)--10 pieces total. Paper clips, chess pawns, kalamata olives, whatever you have.

    1 · May 12, 2014

  • Dale

    Thanks all for the comments. Most cell autom. is shown on something like a big chessboard. But, I wonder, what if you went to a very hi res array, like using a single pixel of a computer monitor as a cell. What would that automation look like?

    May 3, 2014

    • Alida t.

      would somebody please tell me what he just said!

      May 9, 2014

    • Morgan

      With any luck, after Wednesday you won't even have to ask!

      2 · May 9, 2014

  • Jim B.

    Looking to make the world a better place with clean, sustainable energy. Energy is nothing but a chemical reaction. I have a friend who can do a chemical reaction with a hand calculator.

    May 8, 2014

  • Debbi

    I hope my Roomba doesn't learn about this!

    2 · May 5, 2014

  • Dale

    Sounds faaascinnating. I hope I'll be able to go, but I can't tell what my work schedule will be like. | I wonder, could it be that the whole universe itself is a great cellular automata? ...Or is that what's actually being implied in all this work and I'm not picking up on it? If we can find this bottom level of reality what kinds of machines could be built that would exploit this knowledge?

    April 23, 2014

    • Mark T.

      I think the key to the universe is somewhere in these concepts. I'm not kidding!

      April 29, 2014

    • Jack J

      There's an (admittedly fuzzy) boundary between automata and non-automata which probably precludes us from interpreting the whole universe this way. For one thing on the cosmic scale the organizing principle is entropic. Things running down, matter falling into gravity wells to form galaxies. Gas clouds falling in the same way form stars, which run down by burning their hydrogen then helium. Snowflake crystals form by water molecules eventually snapping into place once their random kinetic energy is given up and their attracted into the lowest energy configuration.
      The term cellular automata refers to localized instances where things seem not to run down, but run up. Life is the principal example, the whole of which to the best of our knowledge has self-assembled out of the natural interactions of matter and energy.

      2 · May 1, 2014

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