March 15, 2006


Life, the Universe, and Everything: Quantum mechanic Seth Lloyd says we really are controlled by a computer. (Kevin Kelly, March 2006, Wired)

Seth Lloyd is the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with. Between gulps, the MIT prof will impart the details of how the universe really works. And if you order another, he'll give you a summary of one of the most mind-boggling ideas emerging in science today. His new book, Programming the Universe, is a plainspoken tale of how the universe is - tell me if you've heard this before - one very large quantum computer. - Kevin Kelly

WIRED: I hear you're a quantum computer repair guy.

LLOYD: Yes, I am a quantum mechanic! Those darn quantum computers break all the time.

You've jumped from working on quantum computers to saying, oh, by the way, the universe is a gigantic quantum computer.

When you zap things with light to build quantum computers, you're hacking existing systems. You're hijacking the computation that's already happening in the universe, just like a hacker takes over someone else's computer.

What is the universe computing when we are not hijacking it for our own purposes?
It computes itself. It computes the flow of orange juice as you drink it, or the position of each atom in your cells.

In the beginning was the Word....

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2006 8:06 AM

And the word was forty-two.

Posted by: Mikey at March 15, 2006 9:19 AM

Another scientist who can't help but see design in the universe. Hmmm.

Posted by: L. Rogers at March 15, 2006 9:32 AM

Ah, so the story of Noah and the Flood was actually a metaphor for a system reboot?

In college my friends and I solved the mysteries of the universe numerous times over numerous beers. Too bad we never remembered the solutions the next day.

Posted by: Rick T. at March 15, 2006 9:35 AM

"Information cannot be of a physical nature: Information is information, neither matter nor energy. No materialism that fails to take account of this can survive the present day." Norbert Wiener

Guys like Dennett and Dawkin belong in Darwin's waiting room.

Posted by: Ed Bush at March 15, 2006 9:48 AM

Materialism nas never been on firm ground.

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2006 9:54 AM

I always wondered what Bishop Berkeley's ideas would have looked like had he been familiar with computer technology, especially 3-D graphics programming. I think that's really what he was reaching for with his sheet music metaphor - the storage of raw information interpreted by a driver that is activated by a stimulator (intelligence).

Professor Lloyd dates back his ideas to Issac Asimov - umm - they go back a lot further than that.

Posted by: Shelton at March 15, 2006 10:19 AM

Not only is the universe a quantum computer, but it's memory-limited. Look at how a few constants (pi, e) are re-used in widely different contexts just to save a few bytes. Also it uses two's-complement arithmetic.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at March 15, 2006 10:40 AM

If you want to go all out, one could ask "How does God remember everything?". Maybe there is no difference between the Universe and it serves as its own storage mechanism. You could even reconcile free will and omniscience because God, being out of time, can access the storage just easily at the end as at the beginning. So to Him it just is, while we experience the passage of time.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 15, 2006 12:39 PM

Good thesis, AOG.

Posted by: Ptah at March 15, 2006 2:24 PM

I think we're beta code.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at March 15, 2006 2:54 PM