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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are we all just subroutines in a giant computer program?
The answer to the question is, well yes, we could be - but that is not what this book is about!

The premise of Seth Lloyd's excellent book is that, like 'energy', 'information' is itself a fundamental physical quantity. Energy, as any physics student knows, makes everything happen - but what is it that determines exactly what happens? The answer is information...
Published on 10 Oct 2007 by Simon

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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotes galore
The bad news first: Seth Lloyd (or, my guess, his literary agent Mr Brockman) likes telling anecdotes about all the Nobel laureates and other important people he has met during his career, and he also likes to throw in whimsical asides that are supposed to keep the reader going. And, the really bad news: there's one or two of those on pretty much every single page of the...
Published on 26 Sep 2006 by Oliver


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are we all just subroutines in a giant computer program?, 10 Oct 2007
The answer to the question is, well yes, we could be - but that is not what this book is about!

The premise of Seth Lloyd's excellent book is that, like 'energy', 'information' is itself a fundamental physical quantity. Energy, as any physics student knows, makes everything happen - but what is it that determines exactly what happens? The answer is information. In a real sense, the Universe is a giant computer that is constantly processing information.

But this is not some fanciful science fiction plot and the author is not suggesting that we are living out the storyline to "The Matrix" (although we could be). It's just that, in the 20th Century, as more was learnt about the nature of matter (quantum physics) whilst, in parallel, a method of high-speed processing of vast quantities information was developed (computing), physicists came to see how the processing of information underpins activity in the structured universe. This is a very serious topic indeed and, if you've introduced yourself to the ideas behind quantum theory, this book is great way to develop that understanding a bit further.

Like all good popular science books, "Programming the Universe" is aimed at the general public like you and me - you don't need a science degree! The author uses easy to follow analogies to explain all the complex theories. There is a good narrative thread, plenty of humour and it is entertainingly written. The early chapters explain the 'computational universe' - how much the universe is akin to a computer. We then go on to learn how quantum particles can and do behave like the binary 'bits' in a microprocessor - the ones that are either a '1' or a '0' - and how it is possible to use them to perform logical operations, just like the chip in the PC on which you have accessed this page. The difference is that quantum bits don't have to be in one or other of the two mutually exclusive states (i.e. '1' or '0'), because, as we know from quantum physics, particles can simultaneously be in two states at once. There isn't enough room here to explain why (you'll have to read the book) but what this means in practice is that a quantum computer would do many things at once - such as performing a search in multiple places or factorizing a prime number by computing all the possible factors simultaneously. In short, a quantum computer will be an order of magnitude more powerful than our current classical machines.

There is a very thought-provoking conclusion about a quantum computer that could simulate all the processes in the universe from the big bang to now. We don't know who would build such a machine or why they might do it but we do know exactly what it would look like and how long the computation would take. I shall say no more.

Needless to say, I disagree with the initial reviewer's comments (see the Amazon page with the paperback version). The computational nature of the universe isn't just plausible, it is fact. And treating information in the same way we have been classically doing with energy, i.e. as a fundamental physical quantity, opens up a new way of thinking about the universe. The idea of information as a physical thing may seem abstract and difficult to grasp but it is worthwhile. There is no claim in the text that the universe is actually a computer - it just behaves like one.

As a small aside, there is no complicated maths but I would recommend that you are 'up to speed' on some of the very basic tenets of classical and quantum physics before you attempt this book - 'A' level stuff. I say this because I would imagine that the text might not be so rewarding if you had to rely solely on the quick analogies used here to describe things like entropy and wave/particle duality (though I may be wrong - you might be a faster learner than myself). Also, a little knowledge of what goes on inside a microprocessor (c.f. logic gates, memory registers) might be helpful!

To sum up: thoroughly entertaining and seriously thought-provoking stuff.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are we all just subroutines in a giant computer program?, 10 Oct 2007
This review is from: Programming The Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos (Paperback)
The answer to the question is, well yes, we could be - but that is not what this book is about!

The premise of Seth Lloyd's excellent book is that, like 'energy', 'information' is itself a fundamental physical quantity. Energy, as any physics student knows, makes everything happen - but what is it that determines exactly what happens? The answer is information. In a real sense, the Universe is a giant computer that is constantly processing information.

But this is not some fanciful science fiction plot and the author is not suggesting that we are living out the storyline to "The Matrix" (although we could be). It's just that, in the 20th Century, as more was learnt about the nature of matter (quantum physics) whilst, in parallel, a method of high-speed processing of vast quantities information was developed (computing), physicists came to see how the processing of information underpins activity in the structured universe. This is a very serious topic indeed and, if you've introduced yourself to the ideas behind quantum theory, this book is great way to develop that understanding a bit further.

Like all good popular science books, "Programming the Universe" is aimed at the general public like you and me - you don't need a science degree! The author uses easy to follow analogies to explain all the complex theories. There is a good narrative thread, plenty of humour and it is entertainingly written. The early chapters explain the 'computational universe' - how much the universe is akin to a computer. We then go on to learn how quantum particles can and do behave like the binary 'bits' in a microprocessor - the ones that are either a '1' or a '0' - and how it is possible to use them to perform logical operations, just like the chip in the PC on which you have accessed this page. The difference is that quantum bits don't have to be in one or other of the two mutually exclusive states (i.e. '1' or '0'), because, as we know from quantum physics, particles can simultaneously be in two states at once. There isn't enough room here to explain why (you'll have to read the book) but what this means in practice is that a quantum computer would do many things at once - such as performing a search in multiple places or factorizing a prime number by computing all the possible factors simultaneously. In short, a quantum computer will be an order of magnitude more powerful than our current classical machines.

There is a very thought-provoking conclusion about a quantum computer that could simulate all the processes in the universe from the big bang to now. We don't know who would build such a machine or why they might do it but we do know exactly what it would look like and how long the computation would take. I shall say no more.

Needless to say, I disagree with the initial reviewer's comments. The computational nature of the universe isn't just plausible, it is fact. And treating information in the same way we have been classically doing with energy, i.e. as a fundamental physical quantity, opens up a new way of thinking about the universe. Amongst other things, it can explain how complexity arises out of simple particles of matter. The idea of information as a physical thing may seem abstract and difficult to grasp but it is worthwhile. There is no claim in the text that the universe is actually a computer - it just behaves like one.

As a small aside, there is no complicated maths but I would recommend that you are 'up to speed' on some of the very basic tenets of classical and quantum physics before you attempt this book - 'A' level stuff. I say this because I would imagine that the text might not be so rewarding if you had to rely solely on the quick analogies used here to describe things like entropy and wave/particle duality (though I may be wrong - you might be a faster learner than myself). Also, a little knowledge of what goes on inside a microprocessor (c.f. logic gates, memory registers) might be helpful!

To sum up: thoroughly entertaining and seriously thought-provoking stuff.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotes galore, 26 Sep 2006
By 
The bad news first: Seth Lloyd (or, my guess, his literary agent Mr Brockman) likes telling anecdotes about all the Nobel laureates and other important people he has met during his career, and he also likes to throw in whimsical asides that are supposed to keep the reader going. And, the really bad news: there's one or two of those on pretty much every single page of the book! If you are not deterred by that and/or able to skip irrelevant waffle, then you'll learn some interesting things about Lloyd's view of the universe, how complexity comes about and why the cosmos is ultimately a huge quantum computer. That 50% of the book is well worth the read.
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1.0 out of 5 stars What a bad book., 30 Jun 2014
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This is one of the worst popular science books I have ever read. I am familiar with some of the scholarly work of the author, which is very good. He should have stuck with it.

There are two main complaints about the book:

(1) It seems to be written in a haste and feels like a first draft. there is no structure to the book. Instead of presenting a coherent idea or proposition the text jumps from topic to topic. It feels more like a stream of consciousness than a well thought out book. I wonder how the publisher could allow such a book to go to print.

(2)Some of the topics in the book are difficult to communicate to the general reader. Yet, the other merely pretends to try to do that. Any description of scientific ideas is a mere pretense and all the author does is to use (quite poorly conceived) metaphors.

In conclusion: The topic is potentially interesting, but if you want to learn about science, there are many good books out there.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, annoying style and underestimates readers, 1 July 2013
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This review is from: Programming The Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos (Paperback)
Interesting ideas lie behind all this but I found the style of writing pretty irritating. The author keeps implying that he will explain something and then dances off elsewhere to come back to it later. This creates a lot of repetition and confusion that could easily be avoided.

It makes for a curious book. The author wants to explain some fairly complex ideas about the universe and his theories but seems unable to credit the reader with the intelligence to understand them so falls back on simple explanations that at times border on patronising.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Next paradigm shift announced!, 3 Mar 2013
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I loved the book very much. Throughout the book S.L has explained and according to me hinted
that why and how "Information" is the next at the door "paradigm shift" for human intellect.
As some physical realities caused Classical Mechanics to be sorted by Quantum Mechanics,
now Quantum Mechanics lacks "Information Mechanics" to explain the seemingly immpossible things
of it's own domain. This book is a must-a-read for all levels of people who are interested in science,
universe,complexity,computation and future.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Book, Original subject, 30 May 2009
By 
George Spiros (Athens, Greece) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Programming The Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos (Paperback)
Its a weird book.

Though i have read a lot of popular science books, this one is very original. It deals with quantum computers and their connection with cosmos.

Such a specialized matter however comes along with some drawbacks. In the end you're left wondering... so what? so what? The book doesnt tell you how the universe is working, but deals with the hypothetical amount of universe information, and how this can be manipulated. So what if this is true?

I think that if we leave aside some (necessary) references to quantum mechanincs, (if you have read a couple of science books you've already read about them), and some other references to other laws of physics that are needed to help build a backround for the general reader to follow the book, the core of the book lacks interest. A lot of details on how this quantum-computer work are good for some people, some other might find that tiring.

Its a nice written book however, with a lot of anecdotes, quotes, and jokes. Quite easy to read (considering the science category it fits).

I recommend this book to anyone who has already read a few pop. science books and wants to explore a "virgin" area, a more specialized area. It goes deep into analysing his thoughts, something which is good.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Boring and not very clear, 22 Aug 2007
By 
Mordrain (Milan, Italy) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Programming The Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos (Paperback)
I suppose that M. Wilkinson completely missed the point of the author about what is a quantum computer: under Lloyd's hypothesis and definition, the universe is really a computer (too, not only).
This is the only interesting point in a book quite boring, not clear and quite superficial.
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