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Conference Papers Year : 2016

What Automata Can Provide a Medium for Life?

Tommaso Toffoli
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Hadn’t this question already been answered? We all know about computation-universal Turing Machines. And we know that any such machine can simulate a space-time dynamics not unlike von Neumann’s cellular automaton, which is computation- and construction-universal and among other things can play host to self-replicating machines. And that self-replication sprinkled with a bit of randomness should inexorably lead to descent with variation, competition, and thence to evolution and all that.And note that the state of the art has much advanced in the fifty years since. “So?” Enrico Fermi would have asked, “Where are they?”It turns out that life is by its very nature a marginal, fragile, and ephemeral kind of phenomenon. For a substrate or a “culture medium” to be able to support it, computation- and construction-universality are necessary—but by no means sufficient! Most automata (including, I suspect, Conway’s very game of Life) will go through their entire life course without ever originating anything like life.What questions, then, should we ask of a prospective medium—be it a Turing machine, a cellular automaton, or some other kind of automaton—that will probe its capabilities to originate and/or sustain some form of life?
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hal-01435030 , version 1 (13-01-2017)





Tommaso Toffoli. What Automata Can Provide a Medium for Life?. 22th International Workshop on Cellular Automata and Discrete Complex Systems (AUTOMATA), Jun 2016, Zurich, Switzerland. pp.10-25, ⟨10.1007/978-3-319-39300-1_2⟩. ⟨hal-01435030⟩
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