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Mathematician to deliver public lecture in Auck

Prolific mathematician to deliver public lecture in Auckland

The man who created the “Game of Life”, one of the most popular games in existence, will deliver a public lecture at The University of Auckland next week.

Hosted by the Faculty of Science, Professor John Conway, Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University, will talk about “The Free Will Theorem” at the University at 4pm on Thursday January 27.

By studying the rules of existence – simple birth, death and survival rules, Professor Conway created a game, which illustrates at a simplified level the kinds of evolutionary forces at work in the Universe.

The “Game of Life” is a two-dimensional cellular automaton. Each cell can take on two states: alive or dead. With this cellular automaton, complex systems can easily be modelled and studied. The name comes from the fact that it first emulated a predator-prey system.

Ever since its invention, Professor Conway’s “Game of Life” has attracted much interest because of the surprising ways in which the patterns can evolve. Life is an example of emergence and self-organisation. In Conway’s Game, every counter with two or three neighbouring counters survives for the next generation. Each counter with four or more neighbours dies from overpopulation and is removed. Every counter with one neighbour or none dies from isolation and each empty cell adjacent to exactly three neighbours - no more, no fewer - is a birth cell. A counter is placed on it at the next move.

The “Game of Life” is used by scientists, mathematicians and economists to observe the way that complex patterns emerge from implementing simple rules. The Game has the potential to help understand complex systems. It can, for example, be used to explain how the petals on a rose or the stripes on a zebra can arise from a tissue of living cells growing together. It can even help understand the diversity of life that has evolved on earth.

While the “Game of Life” is perhaps his more well-known creation, Professor Conway is credited with many mathematical discoveries. His Doomsday algorithm is used to calculate the day of the week. He has also invented a number of mathematical puzzles and games.

Professor Conway is also responsible for profound research contributions to diverse areas of mathematics. For example, he is the discoverer of various finite simple groups, which are fundamental building blocks for mathematical objects.

He has written and co-authored several books including: the “Atlas of Finite Groups”, “The Sensual (Quadratic) Form”, “On Numbers and Games”, “Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays” and “The Book of Numbers”.

Public lecture details

Topic: The Free Will Theorem

Date: 4pm, 27 January 2005

Venue: MLT1, Ground Floor, Building 303, The University of Auckland, 38 Princes St

About Professor Conway

John Horton Conway was born in Liverpool, England. He was educated at the University of Cambridge and taught at Cambridge as a mathematical logician upon graduation. He joined Princeton University in 1986 and is currently John von Neumann Distinguished Professor of Mathematics. Professor Conway is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and recipient of the Berwick Prize of the London Mathematical Society (1971), Pólya Prize of the London Mathematical Society (1987), Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize (1999), Leroy P. Steele Prize of the American Mathematical Society (2000), and Joseph Priestley Award (2001).

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