Conway’s Prime Producing Machine

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Primes are not randomly arranged (since their position is predetermined) but we can’t find an equation which directly gives us nth prime number. However, we can ask for a function (which surely can’t be a polynomial) which will give only the prime numbers as output. For example, the following one is used for MRDP theorem:

 

But it’s useless to use this to find bigger primes because the computations are much more difficult than the primality tests.

Conway’s PRIMEGAME takes whole numbers as inputs and outputs 2^k if and only if k is prime.

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Source: https://cstheory.stackexchange.com/a/14727 [Richard Guy, © 1983 Mathematical Association of America]

 PRIMEGAME is based on a Turing-complete esoteric programming language called FRACTRAN, invented by John Conway. A FRACTRAN program is an ordered list of positive fractions together with an initial positive integer input n. The program is run by updating the integer n as follows:

  1. for the first fraction f in the list for which nf is an integer, replace n by nf;
  2. repeat this rule until no fraction in the list produces an integer when multiplied by n, then halt.

PRIMEGAME is an algorithm devised to generate primes using a sequence of 14 rational numbers:

\displaystyle{\left( \frac{17}{91}, \frac{78}{85}, \frac{19}{51}, \frac{23}{38}, \frac{29}{33}, \frac{77}{29}, \frac{95}{23}, \frac{77}{19}, \frac{1}{17}, \frac{11}{13}, \frac{13}{11}, \frac{15}{2}, \frac{1}{7}, \frac{55}{1} \right)}

Starting with 2, one finds the first number in the machine that multiplied by 2 gives an integer; then for that integer we find the first number in the machine that generates another integer. Except for the initial 2, each number output have an integer for a binary logarithm is a prime number, which is to say that powers of 2 with composite exponents don’t show up.

If you have some knowledge of computability and unsolvability theory, you can try to understand the working of this Turing machine. There is a nice exposition on OeisWiki  to begin with.

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“Hilbert’s 10th Problem” by Martin Davis and Reuben Hersh [© 1973 Scientific American, doi: 10.1038/scientificamerican1173-84] Illustrating the basic idea of machines from unsoilvability theory.

Following is an online program by Prof. Andrew Granville illustrating the working of PRIMEGAME:

Motivation for this post came from Andrew Granville’s Math Mornings at Yale.

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