Cellular automata is a big topic.

Visualizations of automata is a big topic.

Applying cellular automata models to voting is a big topic.

Cellular automata is a computational construct. There are many great resources online explaining the basics of automata. In short though, consider a piece of graph paper. You can color in the squares of the graph paper based on simple rules. These simple rules usually involve only looking at the neighboring cells of the cell you are going to color in or not. e.g. if all the neighboring cells are black, color the cell black. You typically apply these rules instantaneously to all cells at a given “tick” of the clock. You can get a huge variety of “global” (the entire piece of graph paper) patterns based solely on applying these neighboring cell rules.

As silly and simplistic as it seems, these automata models can accurately model a huge number of real world and complicated phenomenon such as ant colony behavior, formation of galaxies, voting behavior, evacuation of a building in a fire, etc. etc. The advantage to automata as a modeling technique is that there is not complicated math (lots of differential equations and such). You simply define cell states and some simple rules. (of course, you can get more complicated).

What’s even cooler is that certain “elementary” automata can be used to compute anything (a universal computer!). Just like your laptop only uses a chip composed of logic gates that are either 1 or 0 (on or off) and interprets your photoshopping or web browsing. Essentially this is what computers are… big pieces of graph paper where the patterns of colored in cells represent different outputs (you see them on the screen, the chip gets 0s and 1s and the memory stores the patterns…)

Automata can be seen in nature too. As a simple example, which isn’t entirely accurate, you can think of DNA and genetic expression in automata terms. 4bases and their pairings form the instructions (computations) for organisms…. Really though you can see automata in simpler ways in nature like in the formation of certain mollusk shells.

keep asking questions, helps me a lot!

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