Re-inventing Electronics in NKS

Loe Feijs

Technische Universiteit Eindhoven


This paper describes an exploration into what can be done with cellular automata to reinvent and reengineer electronics in a new kind of physics implemented as a system of cellular automata rules.

Project Goals

The goal I set out in this project is to explore the expressive power of cellular automata as an alternative basis for electrical engineering. This goal is primarily set as an intellectual challenge, although in the long term it may even have practical applications, for example to design electrical and electronic equipment in cyberspaces such as Second Life. As an intellectual challenge, the idea is to start from Wolfram’s claims concerning fundamental physics. In the book A New Kind of Science (NKS), p. 433, he summarizes the findings of Chapter 9 as: “...remarkably simple programs are often able to capture the essence of what is going on....” Since traditional electrical engineering is clearly based on physics, it is worth a try to see whether the essence of what is going on in electrical engineering can be rediscovered in the behavior of simple programs.

Although electrical engineering and electronics are based on physics, many situations arise in which one needs not go back to the level of fundamental physics. Instead of analyzing the flow of electrons, it suffices to calculate voltages and currents. Often, one needs not use Maxwell's equations at all. The challenge I set is to be taken as an engineering challenge: the selected phenomena arising in the cellular automata have to be tamed and channeled in practical ways. I chose a specific well-known type of circuit, the RC phase shift oscillator, as a benchmark. I assume that if this can be done, other and more complex circuits are within reach too.

The following circuit layout can be run in Mathematica using an adapted BCA. It contains three “devices” that I call Beam Deflection Transistors, in which some of the cavities work as capacitors and the pipes as resistors.

In the presentation and paper I will discuss the problems, solutions, and a variety of experiences gathered while developing this project.