Cellular Automata


Cellular automata are computer programs popular among people who like to think about "artificial life".  Cellular automata are a spatial array of cells. A cell may be "on", "off", "living", "dead", "refractory", or in some other state of existence. Each cell has a number within it indicating its present state. The states change step-by-step according to a simple set of rules, and the states of all the cells are updated in parallel at each step. If you think of the steps as the passage of time, and if the states are indicated by colors and displayed on a computer screen, the images change over time and resemble little moving bugs or orther crawling or flying creatures. Artificial life!--or at least a passably interesting game.

I think cellular automata are interesting not because they resemble "life" but because they resemble the information processing that may occur in a nervous system.

Here are Java applets demonstrating cellular automata. The applets are a bit different from others you may have seen because they allow you to control the basic rules of the games.

The Game of Life  This is the most popular and one of the oldest cellular automata. I think it's sort of like a little brain. Try the experiments and see if you think so too.

Brian's Brain  This automaton is a little more like a brain.

Better explanations of cellular automata can be found at the links below:

Cellular automata: Digital Worlds by Alexander Schatten
Applets for Neural Networks and Artificial Life compiled by Akio Utsugi
Paul Conway's Game of Life Miscellany by Paul Callahan

Last revised 11 Aug 2003 (Dead links removed 13 Sept 2013)
M. Steven Evans [ mail | home page ]