Proof of simplest ‘universal computer’ wins UK student $25K

November 14th, 2007 - 2:49 am ICT by admin  
Prize-winner Alex Smith is a student of electronics and computing at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

He claimed the prize from mathematician Stephen Wolfram who announced in May an award of 25,000 dollars to anyone who could prove that a kind of mathematical calculator called Turing machine was universal.

Some kinds of Turing machines are known to have the qualities of “universal computers”, and they can solve almost any mathematical problem if given enough time and memory.

However, Wolfram wanted someone to find evidence that the simplest possible Turing machine, a cellular automaton that uses just three different symbols in its calculations that he discussed in his 2002 book ‘A New Kind of Science’, was also universal when so far as solving mathematical problems was concerned.

The proof devised by Alex Smith involves showing that the machine is equivalent to another mathematical device, which is already known to be a universal computer.

According to Wolfram, even the simplest possible machine is capable of being a universal computer suggests that equally simple molecular versions could one day form the basis of new kinds of computing.

Smith, who solved the problem during his holidays, was initially sceptical about his chances. He started work on the project after discussing the prize with his mother.

He revealed that his mother was confident that he would be able to crack the problem, as she strongly believed that it was “the kind of thing he is good at”.

Smith knows 20 different programming languages, and he describes six of them as “esoteric”.

Wolfram admitted that he just did not have any idea as to how long he would have to wait for someone to claim the award.

He further said that he was surprised to see Smith’s age and expertise, and not the speed at which he came forward with the solution in June

“We are also at the end of a quest that has spanned more than half a century to find the very simplest universal Turing machine,” New Scientists magazine quoted him as writing on his personal blog. (ANI)

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