Cellular Automata at Work

(Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.

I've been interested in cellular automata (CA) for many years, and I helped program two different free, downloadable CA software packages for Windows: Cellab and Capow.

If you just want a peek at these scuttling graphics, try Mirek Wójtowicz's Java-based MJCell program, viewable in your browser.

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In the 1980s, my fellow cellular-automatist John Walker and I used to believe that CAs were poised to take over the worlds of video, fabric, and game effects. But the revolution is a little slow in coming...

At least, as I discussed in a "Gnarly CAs" article in Make magazine last year, my former student Alan Borecky indeed managed to make a CA dress for his wife, Donna. And I keep noticing that a lot of the fabrics that I see people wearing these days could easily be designed by CAs.

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Nosing around for further evidence for the advance of CAs, I found some mildly heartening signs. The blog Code-Spot has a tutorial on using CAs in games.

The book Core Techniques and Algorithms in Game Programming has a little bit about using CAs to generate fire.

And cellular automata have played a role in both SimCity and Spore.

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I've long thought that digital musicians should lean more heavily on chaotic effects so as to avoid roboticity. Audio Damage has released a CA-based device called Automaton:

A glitch plug-in that uses a unique game of life style sequencer...capable of adding subtle, seemingly random fills and humanizing effects, but if you like, you can crank the sequencer up to eleven, and watch as your digital audio workstation becomes a petri dish while Automaton makes complete hay of the track you've inserted it to.