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Why Cellular Automata?


I met Rudy Rucker at the Hackers' Conference in 1987. I'd read most of his books, but I didn't know he'd gotten into computers. He brought a PC with a CAM-6 board, a hardware cellular automata simulator, and showed some amazing demos. After I got back from Hackers' I thought more and more about cellular automata, which I'd basically ignored since the game of Life craze in 1970. I wondered if whether a software-only CA simulator could be made sufficiently general and fast to eliminate the need for a $1,500 CAM-6 board.

In November 1988, Rudy Rucker came to work at Autodesk full-time and began working with me on such a product. In June of 1989, we shipped ``Rudy Rucker's Cellular Automata Lab,'' the first title in the Autodesk Personal Science series. The product received excellent reviews and was profitable, despite receiving essentially no resources for promotion and being ignored by the sales organisation. It was terminated on November 30, 1993.

The following, from Chapter 1 of the CA Lab manual, are Rudy's and my explanations of why cellular automata are interesting and important to the future of computing.

Editor: John Walker