Communication complexity meets cellular automata: Necessary conditions for intrinsic universality

Raimundo Briceño, Ivan Rapaport*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A natural way to interpret a cellular automaton (CA) is as a mechanism that computes, in a distributed way, some function f. In other words, from a computer science point of view, CAs can be seen as distributed systems where the cells of the CAs are nodes of a network linked by communication channels. A classic measure of efficiency in such distributed systems is the number of bits exchanged during the computation process. A typical approach is to look for bottlenecks: channels through which the nature of the function f forces the exchange of a significant number of bits. In practice, a widely used way to understand such congestion phenomena is to partition the system into two subsystems and try to find bounds for the number of bits that must pass through the channels that join them. Finding these bounds is the focus of communication complexity theory. Measuring the communication complexity of some problems induced by a CA ϕ turned out to be tremendously useful to give clues regarding the intrinsic universality of ϕ (a CA is said to be intrinsically universal if it is capable of emulating any other). In fact, there exist particular problems P ’s for which the following key property holds: if ϕ is intrinsically universal, then the communication complexity of P (ϕ) must be maximal. In this tutorial, we intend to explain the connections that were found, through a series of papers, between intrinsic universality and communication complexity in CAs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-320
Number of pages14
JournalNatural Computing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Cellular automata
  • Communication complexity
  • Intrinsic universality


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