, a professor of Finite Mathematics at Princeton University, invented Life by the end of the 60's.
, who at that time held the mathematical games column in Scientific American, devoted his columns to it in October 1970.
The result is what became famous as "The Game of Life", or simply "Life".
Life is just one example of a cellular automaton
: a system of rules applied to cells and their neighbours on a grid.
Many other cellular automata have been invented, with more states, more dimensions, more rules, but Conway's "Life" is the best known and the most studied one.
Life is one of the simplest examples of what is called emergent complexity
or self-organizing systems
, the study of how elaborate patterns and/or behaviors can emerge from very simple rules, or, in other words, how simple rules can structure very complex phenomena. It helps us understand, for example, the diversity that can arise from a small group of living cells.
Life is not only a mathematical game, it is also a source of philosophical reflexion and of aesthetical pleasure.
The saying even goes that graphical computer screens have imposed themselves because programmers were so eager to admire the evolution of their favorite Life-patterns.