The Wireworld computer

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These pages describe how we went about building a Wireworld computer. Although at least one design exists for a tape-based Turing machine implemented in the ‘Game of Life’, ours is, as far as we know, the first ever computer implemented as a cellular automaton that you might reasonably want to write a program for. The design was done by David Moore and Mark Owen, with the help of many others, between 1990 and 1992. It’s a testament to our modesty that it was not until September 2004 that we wrote up our work.

You will need a browser capable or rendering looped animated GIFs to fully appreciate the pages that follow. Some of the image files are quite large.

the wireworld computer display showing ‘59’ This picture shows the display of the Wireworld computer as it calculates primes. The impatient reader will want to go straight to the last section below; those who prefer their gratification less instant can begin with the first.

Julien Thevenon has reverse-engineered the computer design and produced a much more detailed explanation of its inner workings, including high-level language models of various components. You can read his excellent description at the Laboratoire Ouvert Grenoblois website en VO or in English.

Experimental demonstration of the Wireworld computer in action, calculating primes. Java required.

Jeremy Sachs has implemented the Wireworld automaton in Flash. You can see it running the computer design here.

A modified version of the Wireworld computer which fits comfortably within an 800x600 rectangle in landscape orientation is available in the following formats:

This page most recently updated Sat 16 Sep 16:09:16 BST 2017
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