This concept was mentioned in (O’Sullivan 2001), although it may not be the first ever mention of it.
The idea is also similar to graph convolutional networks and other graph neural networks, where the goal is to construct an update function for a node that doesn’t depend on the number of neighboring nodes. This enables running cellular automata on non-grid structures.
- O’Sullivan, David. October 2001. "Graph-Cellular Automata: A Generalised Discrete Urban and Regional Model". Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 28 (5):687–705. DOI.