Commit 993714b8 authored by Adam P. Goucher's avatar Adam P. Goucher

Expanded README based on an old description I had lying around on a disk somewhere

parent 57fe1287
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......@@ -24,6 +24,71 @@ This repository also contains a script, ``, to assemble
arbitrary patterns in arbitrary isotropic 2-state 9-neighbour cellular
automata out of these metacells.
In the 1970s, there were blueprints for building a self-replicating pattern
in Conway's Game of Life. However, all of these were so large and unweildly
that there has been no serious attempt to realise any of these early designs.
This changed in the 21^st century, when Dave Greene and Paul Chapman built
a configuration theoretically capable of universal construction by means of
_slow salvos_: volleys of well-separated gliders aimed at an initial target
to incrementally transform it into the desired output. In 2010, Andrew Wade
modified this design to form a complete self-constructing configuration,
_Gemini_, which slowly translates itself across the grid.
In April 2013, Mike Playle found a spectacularly small and fast signal
reflector, the _Snark_, which enabled the radical simplification of signal
processing circuits. Using the same search program, _Bellman_, Tanner Jacobi
was able to find another efficient component in March 2015, the _syringe_,
which can be used to duplicate gliders rather than just reflect them.
The last piece of the puzzle came in January 2016, when Simon Ekstrom
discovered that a single stream of gliders, compatible with the Snark and
the syringe, could be aimed at a block to produce an arbitrary slow salvo
of perpendicular gliders. This meant that universal construction would be
vastly simplified, but there was no systematic method of preparing recipes
for this construction arm. Moreover, the Snark and syringe involve complex
objects which are difficult to build with glider collisions, especially slow
Meanwhile, Adam P. Goucher (the author of slmake) had been running a
distributed search called _Catagolue_, which has simulated the evolution of
approximately 11 trillion random initial configurations and collected over
250 trillion individual objects (of over 100 000 distinct types) produced
in this manner. With the help of results from Catagolue, Chris Cain and
Martin Grant were able to find slow-salvo recipes for both the Snark and the
syringe, the two most difficult components worth building.
However, there was still the problem that building a slow-salvo recipe for an
arbitrary design was an arduous manual task which took several minutes per
constituent object. The simplest designs involved about 50 such objects;
converting this to a tape would therefore often take many days of toil. An
automatic compiler was thus on the wishlist of many cellular automatists.
To address this, Goucher developed _lifelib_ using an algorithm inspired by
the best parts of apgmera (the search program used by Catagolue) and HashLife
(an algorithm conceived by Bill Gosper and implemented by Tom Rokicki in the
popular program _Golly_). This C++ library is a deep stack of abstractions,
with hashtables and inline assembly at the base, and high-level pattern
manipulation routines at the top. Using lifelib, two complementary programs
were written:
- _HoneySearch_, a parallelised search program which runs on a computing
cluster and finds simple slow-salvos for moving, converting, and copying
- _slmake_, a backtracking compiler which reduces a difficult construction
to a slightly easier construction by trying any of several different
simplifying strategies. By iterating this, it ultimately finds a slow
salvo recipe capable of building the target configuration from a single
block (the simplest and commonest individual object).
After running HoneySearch on a cluster over several days, culminating in
over 100 gigabytes of memory usage, enough results were produced and
distilled into the `data` directory (slightly less than a gigabyte of recipes
usable by slmake). This repository contains these data together with slmake
itself and several other helper programs.
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