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Quantum Computing since Democritus [Paperback]

Scott Aaronson
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
Price: 24.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

14 Mar 2013
Written by noted quantum computing theorist Scott Aaronson, this book takes readers on a tour through some of the deepest ideas of maths, computer science and physics. Full of insights, arguments and philosophical perspectives, the book covers an amazing array of topics. Beginning in antiquity with Democritus, it progresses through logic and set theory, computability and complexity theory, quantum computing, cryptography, the information content of quantum states and the interpretation of quantum mechanics. There are also extended discussions about time travel, Newcomb's Paradox, the anthropic principle and the views of Roger Penrose. Aaronson's informal style makes this fascinating book accessible to readers with scientific backgrounds, as well as students and researchers working in physics, computer science, mathematics and philosophy.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 398 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (14 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444178296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521786492
  • ASIN: 0521199565
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 315,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'Scott Aaronson has written a beautiful and highly original synthesis of what we know about some of the most fundamental questions in science: what is information? What does it mean to compute? What is the nature of mind and of free will? Highly recommended.' Michael Nielsen, author of Reinventing Discovery

'I laughed, I cried, I fell off my chair - and that was just reading the chapter on Computational Complexity. Aaronson is a tornado of intellectual activity: he rips our brains from their intellectual foundations; twists them through a tour of physics, mathematics, computer science, and philosophy; stuffs them full of facts and theorems; tickles them until they cry 'Uncle'; and then drops them, quivering, back into our skulls. [He] raises deep questions of how the physical universe is put together and why it is put together the way it is. While we read his lucid explanations we can believe - at least while we hold the book in our hands - that we understand the answers, too.' Seth Lloyd, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Programming the Universe

'Not since Richard Feynman's Lectures on Physics has there been a set of lecture notes as brilliant and as entertaining. Aaronson leads the reader on a wild romp through the most important intellectual achievements in computing and physics, weaving these seemingly disparate fields into a captivating narrative for our modern age of information. [He] wildly runs through the fields of physics and computers, showing us how they are connected, how to understand our computational universe, and what questions exist on the borders of these fields that we still don't understand. This book is a poem disguised as a set of lecture notes. The lectures are on computing and physics, complexity theory and mathematical logic and quantum physics. The poem is made up of proofs, jokes, stories, and revelations, synthesizing the two towering fields of computer science and physics into a coherent tapestry of sheer intellectual awesomeness.' Dave Bacon, Google

'… how can I adequately convey the scope, erudition, virtuosity, panache, hilarity, the unabashed nerdiness, pugnacity, the overwhelming exuberance, the relentless good humor, the biting sarcasm, the coolness and, yes, the intellectual depth of this book?' SIGACT News

'It is the very definition of a Big Ideas Book … It's targeted to readers with a reasonably strong grounding in physics, so it's not exactly a light read, despite Aaronson's trademark breezy writing style. But for those with sufficient background, or the patience to stick with the discussion, the rewards will be great.' Sean Carroll and Jennifer Ouellette, Cocktail Party Physics, Scientific American blog

'The range of subjects covered is immense: set theory, Turing machines, the P versus NP problem, randomness, quantum computing, the hidden variables theory, the anthropic principle, free will, and time travel and complexity. For every one of these diverse topics, the author has something insightful and thought provoking to say. Naturally, this is not a book that can be read quickly, and it is definitely worth repeated reading. The work will make readers think about a lot of subjects and enjoy thinking about them. It definitely belongs in all libraries, especially those serving general readers or students and practitioners of computer science or philosophy. Highly recommended.' R. Bharath, Choice

Book Description

Written by noted quantum computing theorist Scott Aaronson, this book takes readers on a tour through some of the deepest ideas of maths, computer science and physics. Aaronson's informal style makes this book a fascinating read for students and researchers working in physics, computer science, mathematics and philosophy.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rollercoaster of thought-provoking material! 18 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am usually too lazy to write reviews, even when I really enjoy reading a book, but I am happy to make an exception for this one. From the very first page, Scott Aaronson takes you through an amazing tour through many fields of human thought: from the Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms to quantum mechanics, from Turing machines to cryptography, from the anthropic principle to quantum computers, from discussions on the existence of free will to how time travel and black holes are related to computational problems.

Only two caveats: some of the maths might look a bit intimidating for a layman, and most of the material is presented from the viewpoint of a person whose main interest is computational complexity theory: to quote from Scott himself: "In the field I come from, it's never our place to ask if some physical object exists or not, it's to assume it exists and see what computations we can do with it".

If these two caveats did not discourage you (personally, I think they should have the opposite effect), get this book and prepare to enjoy every page of it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Witty and erudite - but still lecture notes 17 Oct 2013
By Nigel Seel VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you're a computational complexity theorist, then everything looks like .. well, a problem in computational complexity. Scott Aaronson is astonishingly bright, on top of his subject and genuinely droll: this book gives you a fly-on-the-wall view of how he engaged with his students at the University of Waterloo.

We start with a tour of prerequisites. Chapter 2 covers axiomatic set theory (ZF); chapter 3 Gödel's Completeness and Incompleteness Theorems, and Turing Machines. In chapter 4 we apply some of these ideas to artificial intelligence, discuss Turing's Imitation Game and the state of the art in chatbots, and also Searle's Chinese Room puzzle. Aaronson invariably provides a fresh perspective on these familiar topics although already we see the `lecture note' character of this book, where details are hand-waved over (because the students already know this stuff, or they can go away and look it up).

Chapters 5 and 6 introduce us to the elementary computation complexity classes and explain the famous P not = NP conjecture. This is not a first introduction - you are assumed to already understand formal logic and concepts such as clauses, validity and unsatisfiability. Chapters 7 and 8 introduce, by way of a discussion on randomness and probabilistic computation, a slew of new complexity classes and the hypothesised relations between them, applying some of these ideas to cryptanalysis.

Chapter 9 brings us to quantum theory. Six pages in we're talking about qubits, norms and unitary matrices so a first course on quantum mechanics under your belt would help here. The author's computer science take on all this does bring in some refreshing new insights. We're now equipped, in chapter 10, to talk about quantum computing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is the computing power of the universe? 6 July 2013
Format:Paperback
The book title suggests it is a history of quantum computing, but it's so much more. Sure, there's some biographical details but it's a more "here and now" look at what we can compute, what we might compute in the future, what it even means to compute and what are the broader implications.

It grew from lectures notes and there are exercises for each chapter, but it's no textbook. I'd hesitate to call it "popular science" because it'd probably be difficult for a layperson to read. However Aaronson is engaging, chatty, hilarious in places and explains ideas (like what Bell's inequality says) intuitively without using too much technical language or assuming ninja level quantum mechanics skills. There's plenty of inside jokes, sarcasm and irreverence. I like that stuff. At times it feels more like having a conversation (albeit one-sided) rather than reading. Parts of book are basically "Student - teacher" dialogue.

Topics such as free will, anthropic principle etc are dealt with in a refreshingly breezy and jokey manner. It makes a nice change from the usual deadly serious approach most authors take.
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