British mathematician John H. Conway died of Covid-19 on April 11 at the age of 82. Conway is best known for the Game of Life he invented, a cellular automaton that displays complex behavior based on simple rules.
Princeton University reported Conway’s death. The Briton was a professor there from 1982. According to colleague Sam Wang Conway got a fever on Wednesday and died unexpectedly quickly. The state of New Jersey, where he lived, has been hit hard by the new corona virus with more than 64,000 infections.
Conway rose to prominence in the 1970s for the Game of Life he invented after the “game” appeared in a column in the October 1970 issue of Scientific American. Game of Life is a so-called cellular automaton: on a grid are cells that behave on the basis of a few simple ‘death or life’ rules. For example, cells with two or three neighbors survive, but cells with four neighbors die, for example. Empty cells with three neighbors, on the other hand, become alive.
Arbitrary patterns based on the rules exhibit complex behavior and, for example, structures that move across the grid or exhibit repetitive behavior. The glider gun is well known, for example, a structure that continuously ‘fires’ a group of moving cells, as it were. When they arrive at a static group of cells, they can trigger new chaotic reactions. The Game of Life has also been used to create a Turing Machine for calculations, based on collision-based computing.
Conway’s major contributions to mathematics are less known to the general public. That’s how he discovered the surreal numbers. He also has publications to his name in the field of group theory, such as his ATLAS or Finite Groups. The mathematician has won the London Mathematical Society’s Berwick Prize and the American Mathematical Society’s Leroy P. Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition, among others.