Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Book Review: Programming the Universe

It is often hard to enjoy a science text, even if it is one of those pop-science books. However, when I was looking around the McGill bookstore this book just jumped out at me. Some might say it is because I am a comp sci and physics major looking to go into quantum computing, but I think it was divine intervention: the sort of divine intervention that is only possible from the power of a computing universe.

Seth Lloyd makes the obscurity of quantum computing very accessible in ‘Programming the Universe’. In its pure form the book will not teach you much about anything, but if you have some basic knowledge in computer science and physics and realize some of the implications of the computational paradigm then the book is really stunning. It kept me captivated as I read almost all of it (except for a little of the start that I read in the bookstore) on the eight hour bus ride to New York.

Seth Lloyd is a professor of mechanics at MIT and likes to be known as a quantum masseur. He finds ways to convince atoms to compute for him and is credited with making the first plausible quantum computer model in 1993. In the book he presents his new way to look at the physical world; in terms of information and computation. He rewrites the second law of thermodynamics to deal with information as opposed to energy, and with that law in hand, delves into the basics of quantum computing and qubits. He does not go too deeply into the inner-workings of quantum computing but instead expands it to the universal stage. He discusses the Universe as one huge quantum computer computing itself. To finish off, he discusses the informational revolutions that have happened since the Big Bang and talks about the place of humans in the picture. Through out the book, Lloyd keeps a good sense of humor to avoid making the material dry. My only issue with ‘Programming the Universe’ was that at times it was far too dumbed-down and spent too much time talking about the obvious or simple. In general, it is a very good read and I recommend it.

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