It’s official. Life was invented in 1970
Not life itself (as we know it Jim) but artificial life, at least as formulated by British mathematician John Horton Conway – you are forgiven for never having heard of him, but he’s big in mathematical knot and game theory.
Life, according to John Conway, is known amongst AI (Artificial Intelligence) enthusiasts as B3/S23 Cellular Automata but you might have heard of it as ‘The Game of Life’ – a mathematical description of birth, growth, survival and death. It was first published in Scientific American in October 1970.
How does it work? Like most great mathematics The Game of Life is both simple and elegant, but ultimately capable of immense complexity. In Conway’s game, ‘life’ is observed on ‘cells’ arranged on a two-dimensional grid. At any point in time each cell on the grid exists in one of two states, ‘alive’ or ‘dead’, and over a series of iterations the lifecycle of each cell is governed by just four simple rules.
1. A non-living cell with 3 living neighbours becomes alive
2. A living cell with less than 2 living neighbours dies
3. A living cell with 2 or 3 living neighbours survives to the next generation
4. A living cell with more than 3 living neighbours dies
These four rules essentially represent the conditions of birth (think of it as 2 parents and a potential support network), death (by mal-nourishment, the sentimental see this as mathematical loneliness!), sustainable existence (ongoing survival at least to the next generation), and death again (this time by excessive overcrowding and competition).
Like life itself, the model requires a set of initial conditions in order to commence (it’s your chance to play The Creator), but once set in motion it continues completely autonomously, generation after generation. Depending on the starting conditions, over subsequent iterations we see new life emerge, populations grow, thrive and decline, and even outward exploration and colonisation.
It’s compelling viewing. You don’t need to be a programmer – there are lots of apps and simulations available.
Interesting… but so what?
Since its publication, Conway’s simple hypothesis has been used to model existence on every scale, from tiny microbe to the entire cosmos. It’s also been used to understand how businesses evolve and how successful customer relationships develop.
Think about your marketing, especially your email marketing. Create a relatively minimal set of starting conditions (information of potential interest) and a favourable growth environment (a compelling call to action) and your population (your subscriber database) will emerge. Fulfilled subscribers will attract more of the same (happy subscribers tend to share and refer), and nourishing them with sufficient attention will see them grow and thrive (the much talked about ‘permission marketing relationship’).
But remember rules 2 and 4. Fail to attend to their needs (to make them feel welcome or continually valued) or alternatively overcrowd them (with just too many campaigns) and they will surely decline, move away or die.
OK, so it takes a little imagination but stay with it for a while. Ironically, due to its popular overshadowing of some of his more ‘important’ work, Conway has been reported to ‘hate’ The Game of Life. I beg to disagree. It’s all you need to know in just 4 simple rules.