Working computer made out of Minecraft blocks

YouTube's TheInternetFTW shows off this arithmetic logic unit (ALU) that he's built out of blocks and chunks in the game Minecraft. It's part of a larger "Hack" computer (as described in Elements of Computing Systems).

So basically, this is a computer subcomponent that you can run around on, physically moving around and watching as it does its thing. It's the 21st century equivalent of the wonderful Bell Labs Cardiac Computer that I played with as a child -- a cardboard computer that got me interested in computing when I was six or seven. It is the virtual made visceral, an unpacked microscopic mystery. It is sheer genius, better than any ten boring lectures on ALUs, computing theory, Boolean math, etc. It's the kind of thing that makes me wish I was a kid today, and glad that I have a kid of my own.

16-bit ALU in minecraft (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. I’m looking forward to someone simulating Conway’s Game of Life in Minecraft.

    And then building a Turing-complete computer in the Game of Life in Minecraft.

  2. I’ve been going through the comments in the Youtube vid and some people were congratulating the guy because he got a job offer (if not an actual job) because of the 16-bit ALU that he made in the vid.

    Not sure where this info is from if anyone can confirm this, and have Cory edit it into the article if true perhaps?

    1. He had to. You can’t craft in Creative so he couldn’t have any of the items he has in his inventory otherwise.

  3. Eventually- We heard you liked Minecraft, so we put Minecraft in your Minecraft so you can survive whilst you survive?

  4. Maybe I’m a luddite, but I don’t get it.

    I get the game play sure. But it’s an open ended nothing. Alright this is impressive and all, but when you think about the number of hours this guy put into building this it’s a little depressing. (At least for me, cause I’ve played a couple of non ending games (not anything major like WOW or Everquest) and after a certain point I just feel bad for spending so much time and never getting anywhere.)

    1. It’s coming from the same place as any hobbyist creation. What’s the point of putting a ship in a bottle? It looks kinda cool and check this out: real tiny rope rigging.

      Minecraft isn’t really an “Open-ended game” like an MMO. It’s an “open-ended game” like a box of toy blocks. There’s no where to get except the where you want to get to.

    2. bcsizemo:

      Well, I’d say it’s definitely not nothing and in many ways it’s far more than if all he’d done was just play the game. He has all the enjoyment of playing plus he’s created something. In the process of the creation he will have increased his own understanding of the thing he created. Perhaps the creation is not useful but in the act of creation he has improved himself.

      Beats the hell out of spending all night watching TV.

  5. @bcsizemo: I realize this differs from person to person, but for me it’s not about getting somewhere. It’s about having fun along the way. And sure, there are times where you need to make sure that you spend your time wisely so you can reap the benefits in the future (study, work, love). But sometimes it’s just about having fun (spare time, vacation).

  6. This could mean a big, huge deal for encryption. Imagine a system whereby an algorithm is given to an initial processor. It’s then passed/translated based on the algorithm to a “virtual” processor such as this within the code of the processor itself. That virtual processor decrypts the information, then passes it back. Which is then decrypted for standard output. Because the first processor layer doesn’t know and is blind to what the second does with the algorithm, the “key” to the encryption is never revealed. Just the initial algorithm. That’s been the major roadblock to DRM schemes – the key must ALWAYS be passed to the end-user.

    It would be similar to saying a phrase in English. Translating that phrase to French. Then translating it from French to Russian. When you attempt to translate directly from Russian back to English, it doesn’t make sense. The key step would be French, which would be obfuscated, even from the original layer.

    PS – Yes, I realize the key is still embedded and passed to the end-user. Yes, I realize the language example is poor due to translation/local dialects/ect. But you get the idea.

    I now fear my DRM/computer-within-a-computer overlords.

  7. So as I’m watching this I start to think……. Humm, Pyramids, Crop Circles, Stone Henge, other random weird things in the world….. Maybe they’re part of a computer diagram or layout In the real world like this is in a virtual world. Or part of some advanced machine we haven’t even discovered yet…… LOL probably not but I found myself pondering that after seeing this logic unit strung out across the landscape in Minecraft.

  8. This sense of easy entry into programming is one of the things I like about Second Life. You’re chatting with someone who is not a programmer, and then a week later they ask you, “What’s a One’s Complement?”

  9. The Circuitry was actually created using MCedit, not dug by hand. Not that it is any less impressive…I’m just defensive because my log cabin looks so pathetic in comparison.

  10. Yo dawg, we heard you like computers, so we put a computer in your computer so you can hack while you hack.

  11. yes! i agree with anon with the guy who brought up crisis! hahah i doubt it could even download it all

  12. People who are as smart as you kinda freak me out. But I am glad you exists to keep me in cool gadgets.

  13. This takes me back to the days when a simple calculator took up a huge facility, sometimes thousands of meters across. I dont see how computers could get any smaller but somehow, someone will find a way…

    1. Do you mean technologically, or in terms of use by humans (keyboard size, etc)?

      Technologically, there *is* a limit on size- atoms don’t scale. But we’re still a couple of orders of magnitude from that.

      Your laptop and cell phone aren’t likely to get too much smaller physically, because then you couldn’t use them. But there’ll be more circuitry packed inside. Also, truly tiny, low-power, very cheap computers will be used in places we just don’t have computers today- clothing, furniture, all sorts of stuff. Devices that don’t need to interact with us directly. There are lots of possibilities.

  14. Agreed, but the limit on size doesn’t matter, someone will figure out how to use quarks after atoms, and then they’ll just have pocket dimensions inside your cell phone so that you have the GREATEST COMPUTER OF ALL TIME THE SIZE OF A PLANET!!!!!!! inside your pocket’s pocket dimension. lolz

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