Meet Langton’s Ant.
Here he is, making his first 200 moves according to the simple set of rules that run the entirety of his very simple little computer-programed world:
- He lives on an infinite grid of little squares which all start out whit
- If he steps on a white square, it turns black, he turns 90° right and moves forward one unit
- If he steps on a black square, it turns white, he turns 90° left, and moves forward one square
This little guy’s movements shows us that even simple rules (or processes, or ideas) can cause in some very complex results.
To start with, as you can see in the animation above, the ant’s progression looks pretty simple, almost symmetrical.
But then things get start to get complicated.
Left alone for long enough, say for 10,000 steps, the grid ends up looking like something like this:
However, with a little more patience you will see that out of that chaos, an infinitely repeating pattern eventually emerges, like this:
Out of the chaos, a new order is established.
Langton’s ant can teach us a few things about the future.
For most of us, the world looks like the second picture – chaos. The world is changing so fast – thanks to AI, climate change, political instability, you name it – it is hard to keep up and even harder to understand what is going on, why it is going on and what could be coming next.
If you are too close to the chaos, it becomes hard to imagine that there is, firstly, an underlying set of simple rules governing the apparent chaos and secondary, that the current chaos will ever settle into a new form of stability.
But it just because you can’t see it from where you are standing doesn’t mean it’s not true. History repeats itself. The natural and political world moves in cycles. New technologies lead to new world orders.
If you understand the rules, you can start to predict the patterns before they even emerge.