Obituary: Mathematician and Game of Life creator John Conway has passed away

British mathematician John Horton Conway, the inventor of the Game of Life, has passed away from complications related to COVID-19. 

Princeton, where Conway has worked as a professor since 1987, shared the news, and celebrated his achievements in mathematics along with his “unbounded curiosity and enthusiasm” for other subjects. 

Conway was perhaps best known for his work in the theory of finite groups, knot theory, number theory, combinational game theory, and coding theory, and for the invention of the cellular automation called the Game of Life

He devised the zero-player game in 1970, and posited that the title belonged to a “growing class of what are called ‘simulation games'” because of its “analogies with the rise, fall, and alterations of a sociality of living organisms.”

The game is ‘played’ on a two-dimensional orthogonal grid of square cells, each of which interacts with its neighbors and can live, die, and multiply depending on initial conditions.

It’s a passive experience that asks players to create an initial configuration before sitting back and watching how it evolves as that rule is repeatedly applied to future generations. 

Friends, colleagues, and students have been paying tribute to the late mathematical on the Princeton website and social media.

“John Conway was an amazing mathematician, game wizard, polymath and storyteller who left an indelible mark on everyone he encountered — colleagues, students and beyond — inspiring the popular imagination just as he unraveled some of the deepest mathematical mysteries,” said Igor Rodnianski, professor of mathematics and chair of the Department of Mathematics. 

“His childlike curiosity was perfectly complemented by his scientific originality and the depth of his thinking. It is a great loss for us and for the entire mathematical world.”