sorts of practical processes in which bias or deadlock can be avoided by using randomness, or in which one wants to generate behavior that is somehow too complex for an adversary to predict.
Being able to produce complexity that is even roughly like what we see in nature also has immediate consequences—say in generating realistic textures and computer graphics or in producing artistic images that we abstractly perceive as having features familiar from nature.
The phenomenon of computational irreducibility implies that to find out what some specific system with complex behavior will do can require explicit simulation that involves an irreducible amount of computational work. But as a practical matter, if one can set up a model that is based on sufficiently simple rules then it becomes more likely that one will be able to make designs and build control devices that work even with some system in nature that shows complex behavior.
So what about computers? Although the components used have shifted from vacuum tubes to semiconductors the fundamental rules by which computers operate have changed very little in half a century.
But what the Principle of Computational Equivalence implies is that there are actually a vast range of very different kinds of rules that all lead to exactly the same computational capabilities—and so can all in principle be used as a basis for making computers.
Traditional intuition suggests that to be able to do sophisticated computations one would inevitably need a system with complicated underlying rules. But what I have shown in this book is that this is not the case, and that in fact even systems with extremely simple rules—like the rule 110 cellular automaton—can often be universal, and thus be capable of doing computations as sophisticated as any other system.
And the fact that the underlying rules can be so simple vastly expands the kinds of components that can realistically be used to implement them. For while it is quite implausible that some simple chemical process could successfully assemble a traditional computer out of atoms, it seems quite plausible that this could be done for something like a rule 110 cellular automaton.
Indeed, it seems likely that a system could be set up in which just one or a few atoms would correspond to a cell in a system like a cellular automaton. And one thing this would mean is that doing