Wolfram 2,3 Turing Prize winner announced

Kathryn Cramer tells Boing Boing:
The Wolfram 2,3 Turing Prize winner was announced this morning: a 20-year old engineering student named Alex Smith who learned about the contest from a chat room. Link.

The write-up in Nature is here.

Alex Smith, a undergraduate electrical engineering student at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, has proven that a primitive type of computer known as a 2,3 Turing machine can solve every computational problem there is.

And Stephen Wolfram's blog entry on it is here.

Smith's 40-something page proof is here, proving that the Turing machine is "universal": PDF Link. There's also a piece in New Scientist which has some nice bio material on Alex Smith here.



  1. “Wolfram, founder and chief executive of Wolfram Research in Champaign, Illinois, issued the challenge this May to satisfy his own curiosity about how complexity emerges from simple systems. The idea is that a properly applied set of basic rules can create an enormously intricate result. “It’s actually a lot easier to make complexity than one might have thought,” he says. “I find it particularly tantalizing.””

    Soooo, given enough time and energy, it might be possible to evolve an enormously complex eco-system from just a few particles? That can’t be right, surely?

  2. Wow, as a college freshman in computer science it’s nice to see something this large being accomplished by someone so young. Congrats Smith!

  3. Perhaps one day there’ll even be practical molecular computers built from this very 2,3 Turing machine. With tapes a bit like RNA strands, and heads moving up and down like ribosomes.

    This kind of stuff blows my mind. That something so simple can exhibit behavior so complex.

  4. Wolfram’s Blog (once you get through the typical Wolfram evangilism in the first half) has some really interesting points about possible applications of this find.

    “When we think of nanoscale computers, we usually imagine carefully engineering them to mimic the architecture of the computers we know today.” … however,
    “We don’t have to carefully build things up with engineering. We can just go out and search in the computational universe, and find things like universal computers–that are simple enough that we can imagine making them out of molecules.”

    Here’s the link to Wolfram’s whole post:

  5. What really blows my mind about the Wolfram post (and everything he writes) is the sheer arrogance of the man. Yes, it’s a big accomplishment. But he spends only a fraction of the article acknowledging Smith’s contribution. Mr Wolfram clearly seems more satisfied with himself for “discovering” the machine (via a heuristic search, it seems?) than with the proof, which merely confirms his awesomeness. Even Alan Turing gets little credit for his lame-o, messy version of the universal machine — it’s a shame they put his name on it.

    Maybe I’m just too bitter at other stuff I’ve read from Wolfram, but his style makes my skin crawl. And every time Mathematica ticks me of I curse him under my breath.

  6. Congratulations for a great contribution. I have always hoped that what Alex proved was true. Pythagoras’s Monad lives again!
    Hmmmm, regarding life as an example of complexity from simple beginnings – Alex Smith like – would it be (theoretically) possible to build a human brain that was in fact based on a clock work mechaninsm? Or, say, a paralled up Alex-Smith Turing Machine?
    Our pride at regarding ourselves as simple machines, could be saved by claiming that stacked up epistemology could in fact be an entity itself. Consider David Deutsch’s visualization of a research institute being built in deep space from the atoms in free space + knowledge. An area the size of our solar system could provide enough atoms. Atoms alone do nothing much except sit in deep space, but with epistemology thrown in – wow, that’s somehow different. Yummy food for thought.

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