February 29, 2016 AT 2:00 pm

Nightlight based on Conway’s Game of Life


Nice project from Charlie Hoey on Medium.

This is a short piece about a nightlight I designed and constructed for some of my friends this Christmas. It is based on an ancient algorithm (circa 1970) by British mathematician John Conway called Conway’s Game of Life. It’s an elegant example of emergent behavior. If you have some graph paper and a pencil, you can play it by hand:

  1. Color some random cells on graph paper black.
  2. Go through each cell and count how many neighbors it has that are black (min is 0, max is 8). Write the number down in the cell.
  3. Go through each cell again, and turn all white cells marked 3 black.
  4. Leave all black cells that are between 2 and 3 alone.
  5. Turn any black cell greater than 3 or less than 2 white.

That’s it. If you run these simple rules, provably devoid of intention or complex behavior, on a grid of data, interesting patterns emerge.

This pattern is called a ‘Glider’. It predictably repeats and travels down and to the right over successive generations. There is no mention of Gliders in the game’s ruleset, no specifics on how fast they travel or how to form repeating patterns. But this particular pattern, processed through the rules above, produces an ‘organism’. Is biological life a vastly more complex version of this idea? Just a very complex repeating pattern borne without intention from the rules of chemistry?

Anyways, it’s interesting to think about is what I’m saying. But also not something you want to be thinking about 24/7. It’s something that’s nice to think about every so often. And so it seemed like the perfect idea to bring to the oft overlooked artistic medium of the nightlight. I’ve got a 3D printer, whose purchase I often seek to justify. And I love browsing around on Adafruit and listening to Boards of Canada and soldering things, and Christmas was coming, so why not?

Read more.


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