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cellular automaton

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  1. [modeling] A mathematical construction consisting of a row or grid of cells in which each cell has an initial value—from a known and limited number of possible values—and all cells are simultaneously evaluated and updated according to their internal states and the values of their neighbors. The simplest cellular automaton is a row in which each cell has one of two values, such as red or green. In this case, there are eight possible value combinations for a cell and its neighbors. (If a green cell with two red neighbors is notated RGR, the eight combinations are RRR, RRG, RGR, GRR, RGG, GRG, GGR, GGG.) A set of rules determines whether a cell changes value when it is evaluated. A sample rule might be, "A green cell becomes red if it has a red neighbor on both sides." Successive updates, or generations, of a cellular automaton may produce complex patterns. Cellular automata are of interest in spatial modeling and are often used to model land-cover change.