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Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos

Seth Lloyd
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Underwood Dudley
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The author, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written a book of popular physics and computing.  Schrödinger's cat is here, as is ASCII code, Heisenberg's principle, and the inner workings of quantum computers.  It is intended for general readers.  Though it is not equation-free, very few occur and they are at the level of 1 + 1 = 10.

Its main idea seems to be that the universe is a computer.  "What is the universe computing?" the author asks.  His next sentence is "Everything we see and everything we don't see is a manifestation of the universe's quantum computation."  It is not clear to me how this gets us any further forward, other than by adding one to our stock of ways of looking at the universe.  The author asserts that "The quantum-computational power of the universe provides a direct explanation for its intricacy, diversity, and complexity" and "Without the laws of quantum mechanics, the universe would still be featureless and bare."  Does that last sentence mean anything more than "If the universe were not the universe, then it would not be the universe"? 

Apart from theorizing like that and some gee-whizness (quantum laptops will be capable of 1051 operations per second), the book contains quite a bit of physical and computing information, loosely organized but clearly presented.  The style is informal and easy to read.

The author includes more about himself than is to my taste.  (His vita, to be found on the web, is twenty-one pages long.)  Those who are not bothered by such obtrusiveness, and who have not previously read much about quantum mechanics, may find the book useful.

Woody Dudley, who admits to getting stuffier and stuffier with age, is not saving his money for a quantum laptop.

The table of contents is not available.