Transcript: Seth Lloyd on Programming the Universe | Jun 10, 2006

A book appears. The cover is black, with a drawing of a star emitting text. The title reads "Programming the universe."

Then, Seth Lloyd stands in an auditorium and addresses an unseen audience. He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with receding long gray hair. He's wearing glasses, a white shirt and a red tie.

He says AND MY BOOK,
PROGRAMMING THE UNIVERSE,
INDEED IS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE
BEING A GIANT COMPUTER, WHICH
REALLY SOUNDS GOOFY.
WHENEVER I SAY THAT, I THINK,
DID I REALLY SAY THAT?
UM, BUT I JUST WANTED TO SAY
THAT THE REASON FOR WRITING
THIS BOOK WAS THAT I HAVE SPENT
THE LAST DECADE OF MY LIFE AS A
QUANTUM MECHANIC, BASICALLY
TALKING WITH ATOMS, TRYING TO
CONVINCE THEM TO STORE
INFORMATION AND TO PROCESS THAT
INFORMATION, TRYING TO GET THEM
TO COMPUTE.
AND ALONG THE WAY, I REALISED
THAT IN FACT, EVERYTHING OUT
THERE IS COMPUTING ALL ALONG,
AND WE'RE JUST SORT OF
HIJACKING THIS COMPUTATION WHEN
WE BUILD QUANTUM COMPUTERS, ALL
RIGHT?
SO MY EXPERIENCE OF THIS
SCIENTIFIC CLAIM THAT THE
UNIVERSE IS A GIANT COMPUTER,
REALLY COMES OUT OF A VERY
HANDS ON WORKING WITH ATOMS AND
MAKING THEM COMPE.
AND FOR THE MIDDLE PART OF THIS
TALK, I WILL ACTUALLY TELL YOU
HOW TO BUILD QUANTUM COMPUTERS.
THE FOLKAT PI AND
[Inaudible]
AT WATERLOO UNIVERSITY, THANKS
TO THE GENEROSITY OF MIKE
LAZORITTI, NOW HAVE ONE OF THE
WORLD'S GREATEST PROGRAMS IN
QUANTUM COMPUTING.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE SOME QUANTUM
COMPUTERS IN ACTION, YOU SHOULD
GO DOWN TO WATERLOO AND TAKE A
LOOK.
THEY LOOK RELY COOL, LIKE
THESE GIGANTIC BEER KEGS,
SUPER-COOLED WITH LIQUID
HELIUM, WITH MILLIONS OF
DOLLARS OF ELECTRONICS SNAKING
OUT OF TM.
AND THEY ALSO DO COOL THINGS,
THEY DON'T JUST LOOK REALLY
COOL.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Seth Lloyd. Professor of Mechanical Engineering, M.I.T. 'Programming the universe' Bloor collegiate institute. April 19, 2006."

Seth continues OKAY?
ALL RIGHT, SO-- BUT, UM...
SO WHAT I'M GOING TO TALK TO
YOU ABOUT COMES FROM MY HANDS
ON EXPERIENCE AS A QUANTUM
MECHANIC, BUT I HOPE TO
CONVINCE YOU BY THE END OF THIS
TALK THAT, IN FACT THERE ARE
LITERALLY COSMIC IMPLICATIONS
OF TALKING TO ATOMS AND
FIGURING OUT HOW TO MAKE THEM
COMPUTE.
LET'S FIRST...
LET'S STEP BACK FROM QUANTUM
COMPUTING AND QUANTUM
MECHANICAL ENGINEERING AND
LET'S LOOK AT THE WORLD AS A
WHOLE.
SO IT'S NO SECRET THAT WE'RE IN
THE MIDST OF AN INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION.

On a white sheet of paper projected onto a giant screen, he draws a laptop computer.

He continues AND BY THE WAY, I'M GOING TO
DRAW LOTS OF GOOFY PICTURES
DURING THIS TALK, AND YOU'RE
JUST GOING TO HAVE TO PUT UP
WITH IT.
THAT'S JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE.
SO THIS IS MY PICTURE OF A
COMPUTER, A LAPTOP COMPUTER.
THIS IS MY UNPAID SOLICITATION
FOR...

[Laughing]

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues ALL RIGHT, IT'S NO SECRET THAT
WE'RE IN THE MIDST OF AN
INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTION, BASED ON DIGITAL
COMPUTATION, ELECTRONIC
CIRCUITS, AND OPTICAL
COMMUNICATION, AND THIS IS A
VERY IMPORTANT THING IN OUR
LIFE, AND YOU KNOW, WELL, NOT
THAT IMPORTANT.
I MEAN SOMETIMES I THINK IT
GETS OVEREMPHASISED.
BUT IF YOU LOOK IN THE GUTS OF
SOMETHING LIKE THIS, IF YOU
WERE TO OPEN IT UP AND LOOK
INSIDE... AND INTERESTINGLY AS
A PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL
ENGINEERING, COMPUTERS ARE
ABOUT THE ONLY THING, THE ONLY
MECHANICAL DEVICE THAT PEOPLE
IF YOU OPEN UP YOUR TOASTER, IT
VOIDS THE WARRANTY, BUT
ACTUALLY PEOPLE ARE ENCOURAGED
TO OPEN UP COMPUTERS.
IN FACT, MY SENIOR COLLEAGUES
AT MIT COMPLAINED THAT THEIR
STUDENTS, INCOMING STUDENTS
HAVE NEVER EVEN USED A
SCREWDRIVER.
AND THAT'S NOT TRUE.
AT LEAST two thirds OF THEM HAVE USED
A SCREWDRIVER TO OPEN UP THEIR
COMPUTER TO PUT IN MORE MEMORY.
OKAY, SO WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU
LOOK INSIDE ONE OF THESE
COMPUTERS?
YOU'LL FIND THAT INFORMATION IS
STORED ON BITS.
WHAT'S A BIG?
WELL A BIT IS JUST A
DISTINCTION BETWEEN TWO
POSSIBILITIES, WHICH ARE
CONVENTIONALLY CALLED ZERO AND ONE.

He draws two little buckets labeled zero and one, and continues SO IT'S CALLED ONE AND ZERO.
AND WHAT I'M DRAWING RIGHT HERE
IS JUST A LITTLE PICTURE OF
WHAT'S CALLED A CAPACITOR.
AND A CAPACITOR IS LIKE A
LITTLE BUCKET FOR ELECTRONS.
AND IF THERE ARE NO ELECTRONS
IN THE BUCKET, YOU CALL THAT A
ZERO.
AND THEN IF YOU PUT A BUNCH OF
ELECTRONS IN THE BUCKET, THIS
IS MY PICTURE OF ELECTRONS.
FOR SOME REASON I THINK OF
ELECTRONS AS BEING BLUE.
AND I'VE BEEN GOING AROUND
TELLING PEOPLE THIS FOR A LONG
TIME... I SHOULD TAKE THIS OFF
HERE.
I'VE BEEN GOING AROUND TELLING
THIS TO PEOPLE FOR A LONG TIME,
BUT WHEN A FAMOUS BLIND ITALIAN
PHYSICIST NAMED PAULO ROSSI,
WHO HAS BEEN BLIND SINCE BIRTH,
TOLD ME THAT THIS IS WRONG,
ELECTRONS ARE YELLOW.

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues DON'T ASK ME WHY, THAT'S JUST
THE WAY THINGS ARE.
AND SO ELECTRONS OFF THE
CAPACITOR OUT OF THE BUCKET ARE
ZERO, ELECTRONS ON THE
CAPACITOR, ELECTRONS IN THE
BUCKET ARE ONE.
AND TO FLIP A BIT, TO CHANGE IT
FROM ONE TO ZERO, YOU JUST
EMPTY THE ELECTRONS OUT ONTO
THE GROUND, AND NOW THE BUCKET
IS EMPTY AND YOU HAVE ZERO.
AND ALL, AT BOTTOM, A COMPUTER
IS, IS A SET OF SWITCHES TO
FILL UP BUCKETS WITH ELECTRONS.
AND LET ME JUST TELL YOU, IN
YOUR HARD DRIVE ACTUALLY, SO IF
YOU HAVE AN OLD iPOD AS OPPOSED
TO A NEW iPOD MICRO, WHAT
HAPPENS IS, YOU HAVE THESE
LITTLE MAGNETS.
THIS IS LIKE A PICTURE OF A
MAGNET WITH A NORTH AND SOUTH
POLE.
MAGNETS COME FROM CIRCULATING
ELECTRICAL CHARGES.
THAT'S WHAT THIS THING IS RIGHT
THERE.
AND IF WE CAN CALL A MAGNET
WITH A NORTH POLE UP, ZERO, AND
A MAGNET WITH THE NORTH POLE
DOWN, WITH THE LITTLE CHARGES
CIRCULATING THE OTHER WAY, WE
CAN CALL THAT ONE.
AND SO INSIDE YOUR HARD DISK,
BITS ARE STORED BY LITTLE
MAGNETS.
THE POINT IS, ANY TIME YOU HAVE
SOME SYSTEM THAT CAN HAVE ONE
OF TWO DISTINCT STATES, IT CAN
STORE A BIT OF INFORMATION, ALL
RIGHT?
AND IN FACT IN FIBRE OPTIC
COMMUNICATION, IF YOU'VE GOT A
BUNCH OF PHOTONS COMING IN TO
THIS FIBRE OPTIC COMMUNICATION
LINE, PULSE OF LIGHT CAN BE
ONE, NO PULSE OF LIGHT CAN BE
ZERO.
THIS WOULD NOT MAKE A VERY
GOOD-- FIBRE OPTIC
COMMUNICATION LINE SHOULD
ALWAYS BE THE SAME WIDTH.
THIS IS NOT A VERY GOOD ONE.
ZERO, HERE'S A ONE, HERE'S
ANOTHER ONE, HERE'S A ZERO,
HERE'S ANOTHER ONE, OKAY?
SO BASICALLY, THIS INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION COMES
ABOUT BECAUSE PEOPLE HAVE
DEVELOPED WAYS USING
ELECTRONICS AND OPTICS, TO
STORE BITS OF INFORMATION
DIGITALLY.
AND ALL YOUR COMPUTER IS DOING,
EVEN THE MOST COMPLEX
COMPUTATION IT'S DOING, LIKE
PLAYING DOOM OR SOMETHING LIKE
THAT, RIGHT, THAT JUST IS
BUSTING UP THE INFORMATION
YOU'RE PUTTING IN, INTO THE
LITTLE BITS, STORING IT AT THIS
MICROSCOPIC LEVEL, AND THEN
FLIPPING THOSE BITS REALLY,
REALLY FAST, BILLIONS OF TIMES
A SECOND.
OKAY?
EVERYBODY HAPPY WITH THIS?
HAVE YOU REACHED A POINT...
THESE GUYS HAVE A POOL, FOR THE
MINUTE IN WHICH I SAY THE FIRST
COMPLETELY INCOMPREHENSIBLE
THING.
AM I THERE YET?
[Laughing]
OKAY, THAT'S RIGHT, THEY
WOULDN'T GIVE ME MONEY TO TELL
THEM WHAT A TIME IS, BECAUSE
THEN I COULD MAKE IT AS
INCOMPREHENSIBLE AS POSSIBLE,
RIGHT?
ALL RIGHT, SO EVERYBODY IS FINE
ABOUT THIS.
OKAY, BUT THIS INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION, I CLAIM,
IS STILL, DESPITE ITS MANY
CONSEQUENCES FOR THE WORLD,
WHICH, INDEED, ARE GREAT, IS
STILL NOT AS IMPORTANT AND HAS
HAD NOT AS GREAT AN EFFECT ON
THE UNIVERSE AS...
THE PREVIOUS BIG INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION...
WHICH IS THE INVENTION OF THE
PRINTED WORD.

He draws a book and continues MIND YOU THERE ARE LOTS OF YOU
KNOW, INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTIONS.
I'M JUST TOUCHING ON SOME HIGH
ONES.
YOU KNOW OF COURSE THE
INVENTION OF TELEVISION IS VERY
IMPORTANT.
AS I TOLD THE TELEVISION
REPORTER THIS MORNING, AND THE
INVENTION OF RADIO IS VERY
IMPORTANT, AS I WAS TELLING THE
RADIO PEOPLE IN THE MORNING.
SO, BUT THE INVENTION OF THE
PRINTED WORD IS AN EXTREMELY
IMPORTANT INVENTION IN HUMAN
HISTORY.
AND IT'S HAD A FAR GREATER
EFFECT ON HUMAN BEINGS THAN THE
INVENTION OF COMPUTERS SO FAR.
AND IF I DIDN'T BELIEVE THAT,
WHY THE HECK WOULD I WRITE A
BOOK, OKAY?
IT MADE INFORMATION ACCESSIBLE
TO MILLIONS OF TIMES MORE
PEOPLE THAN INFORMATION HAD
BEEN ACCESSIBLE TO BEFORE.
IT CREATED THE POSSIBILITY OF
HAVING LITERATE SOCIETIES,
WHICH I KNOW THAT THESE PEOPLE
SITTING IN THE FRONT ROW THINK
IS VERY IMPORTANT.
IT CHANGED THE WORLD ENTIRELY.
AND IT'S BASED ON THE
TECHNOLOGY OF PRINTING.
IT'S BASED ON A TECHNOLOGY.
ACTUALLY, IN SOME SENSE A MORE
COMPLICATED TECHNOLOGY THAN
THAT OF COMPUTATION, AS WE'LL
SEE IN JUST A SECOND.
WELL, THAT'S OF COURSE VERY
IMPORTANT, BUT OF COURSE THEN,
THERE HAVE BEEN LOTS OF OTHER
INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTIONS.
AND I THINK WE CAN SAY WITHOUT
MUCH HESITATION, THAT...

He draws a roll of script and continues IF I CAN DO THIS WHILE DRAWING AT
THE SAME TIME, THAT THE
INVENTION OF THE WRITTEN WORD
WAS A REMARKABLE INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION, PERHAPS
MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE
INVENTION OF THE SPOKEN WORD.
SORRY, OR THE PRINTED WORD.
UH, SO LET ME DO SOME WRITTEN
WORDS HERE.
SO UH, OOPS, SORRY.
I NEVER CAN GET THESE ACCENTS
IN THE RIGHT PLACE.
I ALWAYS FORGET MY ANCIENT
GREEK.
IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE I
LOOKED AT IT.
OKAY, [Speaking Greek] IN THE
BEGINNING WAS THE WORD.
THE BEGINNING OF THE GOSPEL
ACCORDING TO JOHN, RIGHT?
NOW, THE WRITTEN WORD WAS AND
IS A HUGE INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION, AND
QUITE BIZARRE.
WHO WOULD EVER HAVE THOUGHT TO
TAKE SOUNDS AND SAY, OH, WE'RE
GOING TO MAKE LITTLE SCRATCHES
ON PIECES OF, FOR INSTANCE,
TILE OR CERAMIC, TO REPRESENT
THESE SOUNDS.
WHAT A BIZARRE IDEA.
OF COURSE, ACTUALLY, IF YOU
LOOK AT THESE VERY FIRST TEXTS,
LIKE THE CERAMIC TEXTS OF
LINEAR B FROM MESOPOTAMIA,
THERE ALL RIGHT THINGS LIKE,
YOU OWE 20 SHEKELS IN TAXES,
PAY IT NOW, RIGHT?
THAT'S EXACTLY
THE KIND OF THING THEY SAY,
PARTICULARLY PAINFUL AROUND
THIS TIME OF YEAR IN THE UNITED
STATES.
AND THAT SHOWS YOU, IN FACT,
WHY, ONE OF THE REASONS WRITING
IS SO IMPORTANT AS AN
INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTION, IT WAS WRITING THAT
ALLOWED US TO HAVE CENTRALISED
SOCIETIES WITH DIVISION OF
RESOURCES BETWEEN DIFFERENT
PLACES, FOR BETTER OR WORSE,
OKAY, WHICH MAKES HUMAN BEINGS
QUITE DIFFERENT FROM THER
ANIMALS, NO MATTER HOW
INTELLIGENT THEY ARE.
HAVING WRITING MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE.
ALL RIGHT, YOU CAN KIND OF SEE
WHERE I'M GOING, BECAUSE OF
COURSE, THE NEXT ONE IS, WELL
HEY, THE WRITTEN WORD WAS A BIG
INVENTION, WHAT ABOUT THE
SPOKEN WORD?
I MEAN, COME ON, THE SPOKEN
WORD, WHAT MAKES HUMAN BEINGS
HUMAN IS THE FACT THAT THEY CAN
SPEAK TO EACH OTHER, THAT THEY
CAN TALK AND THAT THEY CAN PUT
THINGS INTO WORDS...

He draws two faces talking and continues THAT WE
HAVE WORDS IS WHAT MAKES US
HUMAN, BECAUSE IN FACT... AND I
SHOULD SAY THE UNIVERSAL
LANGUAGE THAT GOES ALONG WITH IT.
BECAUSE OTHER ANIMALS HAVE
UTTERANCES, VERY COMPLICATED
ONES, FOR INSTANCE, IN THE CASE
OF HUMP BACK WHALE SONGS, BUT
THERE'S NO EVIDENCE THERE THAT
THESE UTTERANCES BY OTHER
ANIMALS ACTUALLY POSSESS THE
SAME POWER OF HUMAN LANGUAGE.
BECAUSE HUMAN LANGUAGE IS NOT
MERELY A WAY OF REFERRING TO
THINGS, IT ALSO INCLUDES IN IT
A WAY OF REASONING.
A WAY OF THINKING, THE NOTION
OF LOGIC.
INDEED, COMPUTER LANGUAGES,
WHICH ARE, YOU KNOW, WE MADE
COMPUTERS IN OUR IMAGE BY
GIVING THEM LANGUAGE.
THINGS LIKE JAVA, RIGHT?
COMPUTER LANGUAGES ARE MADE...
ARE ALSO UNIVERSAL.
SO IRONICALLY THE ONLY OTHER
THING OUT THERE WITH UNIVERSAL
LANGUAGE THAT WE HAVE RIGHT
NOW, THAT WE KNOW FOR SURE ARE
COMPUTERS.
I'M NOT SAYING THAT COMPUTERS
ARE HUMAN, THOUGH IN FACT MANY
OF MY STUDENTS AT MIT SEEM TO
REGARD THEIR COMPUTER AS THEIR
BEST FRIEND, AND I KNOW THAT
COMPUTERS ARE VERY HUMAN IN
THEIR ABILITY TO MESS WITH MY
MIND, ALL RIGHT?
THEY'RE GETTING BETTER AND
BETTER AT IT.
ALL RIGHT SO THE SPOKEN WORD
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, ALTHOUGH
YOU WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO HAVE
THE SPOKEN WORD IF YOU
DIDN'T... I KNOW THESE PICTURES
ARE VERY GOOFY.
PLEASE BEAR WITH ME, MITCHELL,
OKAY?
I'M OPERATING UNDER PRESSURE,
I'M TRYING TO WRITE AND DRAW...
TALK AND DRAW AT THE SAME TIME.
AND THIS IS MY PICTURE OF A
BRAIN, RIGHT?

He draws a simple brain and continues YOU CAN'T TALK OR THINK IF YOU
DON'T HAVE A BRAIN.
ACTUALLY, THAT'S NOT TRUE.
I DON'T KNOW... WELL NO, SORRY,
IT'S TRUE.
[Laughing]
EXCUSE ME, YOU'RE PROBABLY...
THIS MIGHT BE AN EXAMPLE,
RIGHT?
RIGHT NOW.
SO THE BRAIN...
THE BRAIN IS A VERY REMARKABLE
INVENTION IN INFORMATION
PROCESSING TECHNOLOGY.
INVENTED, OF COURSE BY NATURAL
SELECTION, OKAY?
[Inaudible]
ANY CREATION
SCIENCE PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE.
WE CAN TALK ABOUT THAT LATER,
ALL RIGHT?
BUT INVENTED SOMEHOW BY THIS
PROCESS OF NATURAL SELECTION
WHICH ALLOWS YOU TO HAVE
CENTRALISED PROCESSING WHICH IN
FACT IS VERY DIGITAL, BECAUSE
THE BRAIN HAS THESE NEURONS
THAT ARE SENDING SIGNALS BACK
AND FORTH, SIGNALS OF-- OF
ELECTROMAGNETISM BACK AND
FORTH.
THEY HAVE SYNAPSES WHICH ARE
ABSORBING CHEMICALS WHICH ARE
ALSO DIGITAL IN THEIR NATURE.
IT'S A REMARKABLE FEAT OF
DIGITAL INFORMATION PROCESSING.
SORRY, HAVE I LOST YOU GUYS
YET?
ARE WE-- NO, NOT THERE, OKAY,
GREAT.
OKAY, AND OF COURSE WE WOULDN'T
HAVE THE BRAIN IF WE DIDN'T...
HADN'T COME TO-- THIS IS MY
PERSONAL FAVOURITE INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION.
MY FAVOURITE INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTION, YOU'LL
SEE WHAT IT IS IN JUST A
MINUTE, IS THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION.

He draws sperms and continues THESE ARE LITTLE SPERMS THAT
ARE WIGGLING THEIR WAY TOWARDS
AND EGG.
THIS ONE IS VERY HAPPY BECAUSE
HE GOT THERE FIRST.
THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION... NOT
THE ONE FROM THE 1960s, I WAS A
LITTLE YOUNG TO ACTUALLY TAKE
FULL ADVANTAGE OF THE FIRST
SEXUAL REVOLUTION, BUT THE ONE
SOME 500 MILLION YEARS AGO,
WHEN ORGANISMS DISCOVERED SEX.
NOW WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT SEX?
I MEAN, APART FROM THE OBVIOUS
THINGS, RIGHT?
OKAY, AND I SHOULD MENTION, IF
YOU DO BUY MY BOOK, THERE'S
LOTS MORE ABOUT SEX IN IT,
OKAY?

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues THOUGH THE PUBLISHERS MADE ME
TAKE OUT SOME OF THOSE
PICTURES, RIGHT?
AS YOU CAN SEE...
SO WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT SEX
FROM THE POINT OF INFORMATION
PROCESSING?
WELL IF YOU COMPARE IT WITH
ASEXUAL REPRODUCTION... IF YOU
TAKE SOME BACTERIUM THAT'S
REPRODUCING ASEXUALLY, AND
BACTERIA HAVE SEX, TOO.
IT TURNS OUT THAT EVERYBODY HAS
SEX, THEY JUST WEREN'T TELLING
US ABOUT IT, OKAY?
BUT LET'S TAKE SOMETHING
REPRODUCING ASEXUALLY.
THEN THE ONLY WAY TO CHANGE IS
TO HAVE MUTATIONS, CHANGES IN
YOUR GENOME, GENERALLY CAUSED
BY SOMETHING RANDOM, BY LIKE,
SAY RADIATION COMING IN FROM
THE OUTSIDE.
AND CHANGE IS ACTUALLY BAD,
BECAUSE 99.9 percent OF THOSE
MUTATIONS, OF THOSE CHANGES ARE
GOING TO MESS YOU UP.
THE BACTERIA THAT CARRIES-- THE
OFFSPRING THAT CARRY THIS
MUTANT GENOME WILL BE WORSE OFF
THAN THE PARENT BACTERIUM, AND
THAT'S BAD.
AND THERE'S REALLY NOT ANY WAY
TO GET AROUND THAT, BECAUSE IF
YOU'RE REPRODUCING ASEXUALLY,
REALLY YOU HAVE TO TRY TO
REPRODUCE YOUR GENOME AS
EXACTLY AS POSSIBLE, AND MOST
BACTERIA REPRODUCE, 9 OUT OF 10
OF THEIR OFFSPRING ARE
GENETICALLY IDENTICAL TO THEM,
DOWN TO THE LAST LITTLE PIECE
OF DNA.
GENETICALLY IDENTICAL.
SO YOU CAN'T REALLY CHANGE VERY
MUCH.
SO HERE'S WHERE SEX COMES IN.
OH SORRY, I SHOULD SAY, THIS IS
WHAT'S CALLED, IN THE
ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT AT MIT,
A COUPLED DESIGN.
YOU HAVE TWO FUNCTIONS.
ONE IS MAINTAIN THE INTEGRITY
OF THE GENOME, THE OTHER IS
EVOLVE, CREATE VARIATION.
BUT THESE ARE COUPLED TOGETHER,
AND YOU CAN'T VARY ONE WITHOUT
SCREWING UP THE OTHER, OKAY?
SO THAT'S A
COUPLED DESIGN, AND THAT'S BAD.
COUPLED DESIGNS ARE BAD.
SO WHAT DOES SEX DO?
WELL AT FIRST, SEX SOUNDS LIKE
A REALLY BAD IDEA, AND INDEED,
WHEN I WAS MUCH YOUNGER, MY
MOTHER TOLD ME TO WAIT, HOLD
OFF, IT'S NOT SUCH A GOOD IDEA
RIGHT AWAY.
BUT SEX IS A BAD
IDEA BECAUSE, WHEN YOU HAVE
OFFSPRING, YOUR GENOME, NO
MATTER HOW SUCCESSFUL YOU ARE,
IS NEVER PASSED ON INTACT.
SO SEX MESSES WITH SUCCESS.
I ALSO LIKE TO THINK, SINCE I
HAVE CHILDREN, I ALSO LIKE TO
THINK THAT THIS ALLOWS ME
PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY AS WELL.

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues IT HAS ITS ADVANTAGES, OKAY?
SO SEX MESSES WITH SUCCESS.
BUT WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT?
WELL WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT IS,
DURING REPRODUCTION, AFTER MY
PARENTS HAD SEX THEIR GENES GOT
ALL SCRAMBLED UP IN SOME RANDOM
ORDER, AND WE'LL TALK MORE
ABOUT THAT LATER, HOW THAT
HAPPENS, AND I GOTOME
COMBINATION OF THEM.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IS GENETIC
VARIATION IS BEING INJECTED
INTO THE REPRODUCTION PROCESS,
AND A LOT OF GENETIC VARIATION.
I DON'T HAVE ANY...
LIKE I DON'T HAVE ANY GREE IN
MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, I NEVER
EVEN STUDIED BIOLOGY IN HIGH
SCHOOL, YOU DON'T LET THAT
HAPPEN HERE, RIGHT?
BUT I DID WRITE SEVERAL PAPERS
AND PUBLISHED THEM IN
BIOLOGICAL JOURNALS, AND ONE OF
THEM WAS COMPARING THE RAW
GENETIC INFORMATION PROCESSING
POWER, IN TERM OF GENERATING
VARIATION, GENETIC VARIATION.
A TRILLION BACTERIA... THAT'S
MANY SWIMMING POOLS FULL OF
BACTERIA, REPRODUCING EVERY 30
MINUTES, OKAY, BUT AT THIS RATE
WHERE 9 OUT OF 10 OFFSPRING
HAVE THE SAME GENOME... COMPARE
THIS WITH A SMALL TOWN OF ABOUT
1,000 PEOPLE, LIKE MY PARENTS'
TOWN IN VERMONT.
ACTUALLY THEIRS IS ABOUT 300
PEOPLE, BUT THAT'S OKAY.
1,000 PEOPLE WHO CAN SELECT
THEIR MATES FROM THE TOWN, WHO
HAVE CHILDREN... WELL IT'S A
GENERATION EVERY 30 YEARS OR
SO, AND WHO ARE HAVING SEX AND
UNDERGOING RECOMBINATION OF
THEIR GENES.
YOU FIND OUT THAT THE TOWN OF
1,000 PEOPLE IS AS STRONG
GENETICALLY IN TERMS OF
GENERATING VARIATION, AS THESE
MANY SWIMMING POOLS FULL OF
BACTERIA.
IT'S VERY POWERFUL.
ACTUALLY, ANYBODY WHO WATCHES
AMERICAN DAYTIME TELEVISION
WOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS ALREADY.

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues THE NUMBER OF POSSIBILITIES IS
JUST INCREDIBLE.
[Laughing]
OKAY, SO... AND THEN IF WE GO
FURTHER BACK, AND YOU MAY NOT
BE ABLE TO TELL WITH THIS.
WE COME TO THE GRANDMOTHER...
THE MOTHER OF ALL INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTIONS, WHICH
IS OF COURSE LIFE ITSELF.
AND HERE I'M TRYING TO DRAW THE
NUCLEUS OF A CELL.

He draws an egg-shaped cell containing DNA and continues I'M TRYING TO DRAW WITH VERY
LITTLE SUCCESS, A DOUBLE HELIX,
WHICH IS THE FORM OF THE DNA.
HERE IS MAYBE SOME KIND OF YOU
KNOW, PROTEIN SHEET FOR-- OR
ALPHA SHEET FOR SOME PROTEIN.
YOU CAN TELL I NEVER TOOK
BIOLOGY, RIGHT?
THEN THERE ARE THESE-- CELLS
OFTEN HAVE THESE HAIRY LOOKING
MOLECULES THAT SIT OFF THE
OUTSIDE, OKAY.
WHAT'S GOING ON INSIDE A CELL?
WELL INFORMATION PROCESSING IS
WHAT'S GOING ON INSIDE A CELL
AND THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE HAVE
KNOWN FOR 50 YEARS.
THE DNA STORES GENETIC
INFORMATION.
WHEN IT GETS EXPRESSED IT SENDS
OUT MESSENGER RNA TO SAY, HEY,
BUILD THIS PROTEIN OR BUILD
THIS OTHER PROTEIN.
THESE HAIRY THINGS ON THE
OUTSIDE ARE, IN FACT, FOR WHEN
SOME FUNNY LITTLE MOLECULE
COMES IN, IF IT'S THE RIGHT
KIND OF MOLECULE, IT WILL BIND
TO THIS, AND THEN A PORE OPENS
UP, AND SUCKS THE THING IN.
IT'S ABOUT SIGNALLING, LOCKS
AND KEYS, THESE MECHANISMS.
IT'S ABOUT INFORMATION... LIFE
IS ABOUT INFORMATION.
SO LIFE, HOWEVER IT HAPPENED,
DISCOVERED INFORMATION
PROCESSING AT THE ATOMIC SCALE,
5 BILLION YEARS AGO, 4 TO 5
BILLION YEARS AGO, WHENEVER IT
HAPPENED ON EARTH.
I DON'T KNOW WHETHER IT
HAPPENED ELSEWHERE, OR IF.
IT DIDN'T HAPPEN MORE THAN 5
BILLION YEARS AGO ON EARTH,
BECAUSE EARTH IS ONLY 5 BILLION
YEARS OLD, RIGHT?
SO LIFE IS ONE HECK OF AN
INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTION, MY GOODNESS, RIGHT?
WE WOULDN'T BE HERE WITHOUT IT,
BUT I MEAN ALSO, IT'S JUST A
REMARKABLE THING.
AND THIS IS WHY BIOLOGY IS SO
FASCINATING, AND I WISH I
ACTUALLY HAD STUDIED IT AT
LEAST MAYBE IN JUNIOR HIGH
SCHOOL.
SURELY THIS IS THE BIG ONE.
WHAT COULD BE A BIGGER
INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTION THAT LIFE ITSELF?
I MEAN THIS IS REALLY
MAGNIFICENT.
NOT MY DRAWING, BUT THIS-- THIS
IS REALLY MAGNIFICENT.
LIFE, IT'S AMAZING, IT'S
INCREDIBLE.
WELL, ACTUALLY, I'M HERE TO
TELL YOU NO, THAT THAT'S NOT
TRUE.
IF WE LOOK AT THESE INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTIONS, EACH
ONE BUILDS ON THE TECHNIQUES OF
THE PREVIOUS ONE.
SEX BUILDS ON LIFE, BRAINS
BUILD ON SEX, LANGUAGE COMES
FROM SEXUAL REPRODUCTION.
WRITTEN WORD COMES FROM
LANGUAGE, NO, SORT OF BUILDING
COMPUTERS COMES FROM OUR
ABILITY TO MANIPULATE IDEAS.
THEY ALL BUILD ON THEIR
PREVIOUS INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTIONS.
NOW LIFE ONLY SHOWED UP 4.5
BILLION YEARS AGO OR SOMETHING
LIKE THAT.
THE UNIVERSE IS 13.8 BILLION
YEARS OLD.
WHAT ABOUT THAT PREVIOUS...
WELL, CIRCA LIKE 9 BILLION
YEARS OR SO?
WHAT WAS HAPPENING THEN?
MY CLAIM IS THAT THE
INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTION WHICH IS LIFE, AND
ALL SUBSEQUENT ONES AND WHAT'S
EVER GOING TO COME NEXT, AND I
HAVE NO CLUE AS TO WHAT'S TO
COME NEXT.
ALL I KNOW IS,
IT'S GOING TO BE FUNKY.
ONCE I WENT TO A JAMES BROWN
CONCERT ONCE, AND SOMEONE
CALLED, "JIM, WHAT ARE YOU
GOING TO PLAY NEXT?" AND HE
SAID, "I DON'T KNOW, BUT
WHATEVER IT IS, IT'S GOT TO BE
FUNKY."

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues IT WILL BE FUNKY, THAT'S ALL I
CAN SAY.
MY CLAIM IS THAT THE FIRST
INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTION BEGAN AT THE BIG
BANG ITSELF.

He draws an explosion and continues BECAUSE THE BIG BANG OCCURRED
13.8 BILLION YEARS AGO, WHEN
KERBLOOEY, VAST AMOUNTS OF
STUFF, ELEMENTARY PARTICLES
WERE PRODUCED.
THEN THEY PRODUCED THINGS LIKE,
YOU KNOW, GALAXIES.
I SHOULD PROBABLY TRY...
THEY GAVE ME TOO MANY...
WHEN YOU HAVE TOO MANY COLOURS
OF THESE PENS, THEN YOU'RE
TEMPTED TO USE THEM.
NO, THINGS LIKE SUNS, PLANETS,
ETCETERA.
THE BIG BANG, I CLAIM, WAS NOT
JUST A BIG BANG, IT WAS A BIT
BANG.
SORRY, I KNOW THAT'S A REALLY
DUMB JOKE, BUT I FIGURED...
AND THERE ARE MANY MORE DUMB
PHYSICS JOKES IN THIS BOOK.
ACTUALLY, I TELL YOU IF YOU
WANT, THERE'S A WHOLE-- IF YOU
WERE TO STRING THEM ALL
TOGETHER, YOU COULD HAVE LIKE,
A 20 MINUTE MONOLOGUE THAT
WOULD HAVE EVERYBODY COMPLETELY
OUT THE DOOR, ALL RIGHT?

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues SO THE BIG BANG WAS ABOUT
INFORMATION.
NOW HOW IS THAT SO?
WELL EVERY ATOM, EVERY
ELEMENTARY PARTICLE CARRIES
WITH IT BITS OF INFORMATION.
A FEW TENS OF BITS PER ATOM OR
ELEMENTARY PARTICLE.
THIS HAS ACTUALLY BEEN KNOWN
FOR A VERY LONG TIME.
WE'LL TALK ABOUT IT MORE IN
JUST A SECOND, ALL RIGHT?
SO I HAVEN'T LOST YOU GUYS YET.
WHENEVER THEY COLLIDE, THOSE
BITS FLIP.
AT ITS MOST MICROSCOPIC AND
FUNDAMENTAL LEVELS, THE
UNIVERSE IS PROCESSING
INFORMATION, AND AS WE'LL SEE
IN JUST A SECOND, PROCESSING
INFORMATION IN A DIGITAL
FASHION, REGISTERING BITS AND
FLIPPING THOSE BITS.
THE UNIVERSE COMPUTES.
AND IT'S BEEN DOING SO EVER
SINCE IT BEGAN.
AND IT'S THIS COMPUTATIONAL
ABILITY OF THE UNIVERSE, THIS
COMPUTATIONAL CAPACITY OF THE
UNIVERSE THAT'S RESPONSIBLE FOR
ALL OTHER INFORMATION
PROCESSING REVOLUTIONS.
EVERY ONE OF THOSE BUILDS OFF
FROM LIFE, TO BUILDING
QUANTUM COMPUTERS, WE CAN DO
THAT BECAUSE THE UNIVERSE IS
ALREADY PROCESSING INFORMATION.
AND WHEN WE ACTUALLY GO IN AND
TALK TO THESE ATOMS, AND I'LL
TELL YOU HOW TO DO THAT IN JUST
A MOMENT, AND TELL THEM... AND
ASK THEM NICELY TO COMPUTE, AND
MAKE THEM COMPUTE, WE'RE NOT
ACTUALLY SUDDENLY MAKING THE
UNIVERSE COMPUTE AT THE ATOMIC
SCALE, WE'RE TAKING THE
COMPUTATION THE UNIVERSE IS
ALREADY PERFORMING AT ITS MOST
MICROSCOPIC SCALES, AND WE'RE
HIJACKING IT.
WE'RE ESSENTIALLY HACKING THE
UNIVERSE, RIGHT?
WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN A GOOD
TITLE FOR MY BOOK, EXCEPT WHEN
YOU TRANSLATE, HACKING THE
UNIVERSE INTO JAPANESE, IT
SOUNDS SOMEHOW, YOU KNOW,
DANGEROUS, RIGHT?
SO WE'RE HACKING IO THE
EXISTING COMPUTATION OF THE
UNIVERSE AND WE'RE TURNING THAT
COMPUTATION TO MAKE THE
UNIVERSE DO THINGS LIKE PERFORM
QUANTUM COMPUTATIONS.
SO THAT'S WHAT WE'RE DOING.
AND THIS INFORMATION PROCESSING
REVOLUTION OF QUANTUM
COMPUTATION, LIKE ALL ONES
PREVIOUSLY, AND LIKE ALL ONES
SUBSEQUENTLY, COMES OUT OF THIS
UNDERLYING COMPUTATIONAL NATURE
OF THE UNIVERSE.

Now a gray slate reads "Does matter have meaning?"

Seth says WHEN I TALK WITH
PEOPLE IN HUMANITIES, THEY
THINK THAT INFORMATION MUST
HAVE MEANING.
AND YOU KNOW, IT WOULD BE NICE
IF INFORMATION HAD MEANING,
THOUGH AGAIN, THE EXAMPLE OF
DAYTIME TELEVISION IN THE
UNITED STATES DOES KIND OF PUT
THE LIE TO THAT, I'D SAY.

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues ONE OF THE GREAT DISCOVERIES OF
THE 20th CENTURY WAS THE
DISCOVERY OF HOW TO QUANTIFY
INFORMATION IN TERMS OF BITS.
REALLY MADE PRIMARILY BY CLAUDE
SHANNON AT AT and T AND MIT,
NORBERT WEINER AT MIT.
THEY DISCOVERED THAT THE
QUANTITY OF INFORMATION WAS
DISTINCT FROM THE MEANING OF
INFORMATION.
I MEAN WHAT DOES INFORMATION
MEAN?
THIS IS A TOUGH ONE.
I ACTUALLY HAVE A MASTERS
DEGREE IN PHILOSOPHY FROM
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY, SO YOU
COULD CALL ME DOCTOR OF
PHILOSOPHY, BECAUSE DOCTOR OF
SCIENCE IS A-- SORRY, NEVER
MIND.
PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THIS ANY
MORE.
SO I QUIT BECAUSE I COULDN'T
UNDERSTAND WHAT THE HECK PEOPLE
WERE TALKING ABOUT IN
PHILOSOPHY.
YOU GO TO A SEMINAR, AND ONE
PERSON WOULD SAY, BLAH-BLAH-
BLAH, AND THEN ANOTHER PERSON
WOULD JUMP IN AND SAY, "YOU'RE
ABSOLUTELY WRONG, THE TRUTH IS
BLAH-BLAH-BLAH."
AND I'D GO...
DIDN'T THEY JUST SAY EXACTLY
THE SAME THING?
SO I WENT TO POLITICS WHERE,
YOU KNOW, THINGS WERE EASIER.

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues BUT MEANING IS SOMETHING THAT
IS-- THE MEANING OF MEANING HAS
ELUDED PHILOSOPHERS AND
EVERYBODY ELSE FOR THOUSANDS OF
YEARS, AS LONG AS ANYBODY HAS
EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT MEANING.
SO MEANING, LIKE, THE MEANING
OF A BIT ON ITS OWN, DOESN'T
MEAN ANYTHING, SO LIKE, YES.
YES COULD BE THE ANSWER TO THE
QUESTION, WILL YOU MARRY ME?
OR IT COULD BE THE ANSWER TO
THE QUESTION, DO YOU WANT FRIES
WITH THAT, RIGHT?
NOW IT MEANS SOMETHING VERY
DIFFERENT IN BOTH CASES, AND IT
HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BIT
ITSELF.
SO MY PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE, AND
AN ENGINEER'S PERSPECTIVE ON
MEANING, NOT A PHILOSOPHER'S,
IS THAT MEANING IS AS MEANING
DOES.
SO, FOR INSTANCE, AS WE'LL SEE,
ONE USE OF A BIT IN A COMPUTER
IS TO TELL THE COMPUTER TO DO
SOMETHING.
SO THE COMPUTER TAKES IN A BIT
OF INFORMATION AND INTERPRETS
IT.
SO ZERO, IT INTERPRETS-- THE
COMPUTER INTERPRETS ZERO TO
MEAN, DO THIS... LIKE ADD 2+2,
OR IT INTERPRETS ONE TO MEAN DO
THAT, LIKE, ADD 3+1.
SO MEANING HAS TO DO WITH
INTERPRETATION.
THAT'S ALL I'M GOING TO SAY
ABOUT IT.
LET ME TELL YOU HOW QUANTUM
COMPUTERS WORK.
SO WHAT WE WANT IS, WE'RE GOING
TO HAVE A BRIEF COURSE HERE IN
QUANTUM MECHANICS.
SO QUANTUM MECHANICS IN FIVE
MINUTES.
AND THEN THERE WILL BE THE
QUIZ, AND THEN YOU CAN ALL GO
HOME.
NOW, THE IMPORTANT THING TO
REMEMBER ABOUT QUANTUM
MECHANICS IS THAT QUANTUM
MECHANICS IS WEIRD.

He writes "quantum mechanics" on the board and continues THIS IS A TECHNICAL TERM.
IT MEANS, LIKE, FUNKY, RIGHT,
LIKE JAMES BROWN, RIGHT, IT
MEANS WEIRD, THAT'S WHAT IT
MEANS.
IT'S VERY HARD TO UNDERSTAND.
IT'S COUNTERINTUITIVE, IT'S
STRANGE.
NEILS BOHR WHO WAS ONE OF THE
FOUNDERS OF QUANTUM MECHANICS
SAID, "ANYBODY WHO THINKS THEY
CAN CONTEMPLATE QUANTUM
MECHANICS WITHOUT GETTING
DIZZY, HASN'T PROPERLY
UNDERSTOOD IT."
OF COURSE HE SAID IT IN DANISH,
WHICH WAS MORE IMPRESSIVE,
RIGHT?
[Laughing]
BUT I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS IN
DANISH, RIGHT, SO...
SO, AND ONE OF THE CENTRAL
WEIRDNESSES-- OH, AND FAMOUSLY,
THERE'S THIS PHENOMENON, WHERE
PEOPLE WHO GET THEIR NOBEL
PRIZE FOR QUANTUM MECHANICS,
LIKE EINSTEIN GOT HIS NOBEL
PRIZE FOR QUANTUM MECHANICS,
NEVER BELIEVED IN IT.
"GOD DOESN'T PLAY DICE," HE
SAYS.
HE WAS WRONG, RIGHT?
GOD DOES PLAY DICE AS WE'LL SEE
IN JUST A SECOND.
SO QUANTUM MECHANICS IS-- AND
OF COURSE ONE OF THE REASONS
THAT HE DIDN'T WANT TO BELIEVE
IN IT WAS BECAUSE IT WAS
COUNTERINTUITIVE, AND IF
ANYBODY HAD THE RIGHT TO TRUST
THEIR INTUITION, IT WAS EINSTEIN.
SO HIS INTUITION TOLD HIM
WRONG, IT CAN'T BE TRUE, AND SO
HE TRUSTED IT, AND HE WAS WRONG
AS A RESULT.
OKAY, SO, LET'S-- WHAT IS
QUANTUM MECHANICS ABOUT?
IT'S ABOUT-- THE CENTRAL KIND
OF WEIRDNESS IS WHAT I'LL CALL
WAVE PARTICLE DUALITY, WAVE
PARTICLE DUALITY.
OO-EEE-OO... IT SOUNDS PRETTY
WEIRD, DOESN'T IT?
YOU KNOW, THAT WAS MADE UP BY
NEILS BOHR.
AND WHAT IT SAYS IS THAT STUFF
WE THINK OF AS WAVES, LIKE
LIGHT OR SOUND....
ARE ACTUALLY MADE UP OF LITTLE
PARTICLES, AND THE PARTICLES
ARE CALLED... PARTICLES OF
LIGHT ARE CALLED PHOTONS, GREEK
FOR LIGHT THINGS, AND THE
PARTICLES OF SOUND ARE CALLED
PHONONS, GREEK FOR SOUND
THINGS, RIGHT?
THIS IS MY PICTURE OF A
PARTICLE RIGHT HERE.

He draws a circle and a wave and continues SO NOT ONLY PARTICLES, THINGS
LIKE ELECTRONS, ATOMS, OR FOR
THAT MATTER, HOCKEY PUCKS,
RIGHT?
HAVE WAVES THAT CORRESPOND TO
THEM.
AND THESE WAVES ARE SOLUTIONS
TO WHAT'S CALLED THE
SCHRODINGER EQUATION.
NOW YOU CAN'T SAY YOU DIDN'T
UNDERSTAND THAT JUST BECAUSE
IT'S SOME GERMAN WORD WITH AN
UMLAUT IN IT, RIGHT?
I'M NOT GOING TO WRITE IT DOWN.
OKAY, SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
SO FOR THE LIGHT
HAVING PARTICLES ASSOCIATED,
WHAT IT WOULD MEAN IS THE HUMAN
EYE IS AN EXTREMELY GOOD
DETECTOR OF LIGHT.
YOUR EYE WILL RESPOND TO SINGLE
PHOTONS, SO A SINGLE PARTICLE
OF LIGHT.
ACTUALLY, INTERESTINGLY, YOUR BRAIN
DOESN'T RESPOND TO SINGLE
PHOTONS BECAUSE THERE'S SOME
FILTRATION THAT TAKES PLACE IN
THE OPTIC NERVE.
YOU ONLY RESPOND TO LIKE, FIVE
PHOTONS, AND THERE'S A GOOD
REASON FOR THAT.
OTHERWISE, EVEN IF IT WERE
PITCH BLACK, YOU'D BE SEEING
FLASHES OF LIGHT ALL THE TIME,
JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE HOT AND
YOUR OWN EYES ARE GIVING OFF
PROTONS.
FROGS, HOWEVER, DO PERCEIVE
SINGLE FLASHES OF LIGHT.
FOR SOME REASON THIS WASN'T
ACTIVATED.
SO SUPPOSE FOR A MOMENT THAT
I'M A FROG, ALL RIGHT?
AND I'M A FROG AND WE TURN DOWN
THE LIGHTS IN THIS ROOM.
THINGS ARE CONTINUOUS, THE
LIGHTS ARE VERY BRIGHT, FOR ME
PARTICULARLY, BUT AS WE GO ON,
THE LIGHTS GET DIMMER AND
DIMMER AND DIMMER AND DIMMER.
AND AT A CERTAIN POINT, WHAT
WOULD HAPPEN, INSTEAD OF SEEING
THEM GET DIMMER, I'D START TO
SEE INDIVIDUAL FLASHES OF
LIGHT, AND THOSE ARE PHOTONS,
THEY'RE INDIVIDUAL PARTICLES OF
LIGHT.
OKAY?
NOW HOW ABOUT THESE FUNKY WAVES
THAT CORRESPOND TO PARTICLES,
TO ELECTRONS AND ATOMS, AND
THIS IS WHERE QUANTUM MECHANICS
AND QUANTUM COMPUTATION COMES IN.
SO SUPPOSE I HAVE A WAVE LIKE THIS.

He draws a wave and continues THESE WAVES HAVE TO DO WITH
WHERE THINGS LIKE ELECTRONS
ARE.
SO THIS MEANS, SAY, ELECTRON
OVER HERE.

He draws a circle under the wave and continues THIS WAVE SAYS, ELECTRON IS
KIND OF OVER HERE.
HERE IS ANOTHER WAVE, WHICH
SAYS THAT ELECTRON IS OVER
THERE, OKAY?

He draws a simlirar wave and electron beside the first and continues AND INDEED, YOU SEE THAT THIS
COULD BE A QUANTUM BIT, BECAUSE
YOU REMEMBER THAT IN OUR
INITIAL PICTURE OF BITS IN A
COMPUTER.
WHAT IS A BIT IN A COMPUTER?
IT'S JUST LIKE A WHOLE BUNCH OF
ELECTRONS OVER HERE, YOU KNOW,
OUT OF THIS BUCKET, THAT'S
ZERO.
A WHOLE BUNCH OF ELECTRONS OVER
HERE, ON THIS BUCKET... IN THIS
BUCKET, EXCUSE ME, THIS IS ONE.
SO THIS IS KIND OF TAKING A BIT
AND MINIATURISING IT TO THE
SINGLE ELECTRON LEVEL.
AND THIS IS ACTUALLY NOT THAT
HARD TO DO WITH CURRENT
TECHNOLOGIES.
SO WE'LL CALL ELECTRON OVER
HERE ZERO, AND ELECTRON OVER
THERE ONE.
SO FAR THAT DOESN'T SEEM SO
STRANGE.
SO THE WAVE HAS SOMETHING TO DO
WITH WHERE THE ELECTRON IS, BIG
DEAL.
THE PROBLEM IS, AND HERE'S
WHERE THE WEIRD
COUNTERINTUITIVE STUFF COMES
IN, IS THAT THE WAVES THAT
CORRESPOND TO ELECTRONS CAN ADD
UP, JUST LIKE WATER WAVES OR
SOUND WAVES OR LIGHT WAVES.
SO IF THIS IS OKAY FOR AN
ELECTRON AND THIS IS AN OKAY
WAVE FOR AN ELECTRON, THEN SO
IS THIS.

He connects both waves and continues AND THIS IS A WAVE WHERE THE
ELECTRON IS, IN SOME FUNNY
QUANTUM SENSE THAT NOBODY
UNDERSTANDS, IT'S HERE AND
THERE AT THE SAME TIME.
IT REGISTERS ZERO AND ONE AT
THE SAME TIME.
NOW PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT ME
KNITTED WITH BROWS, AND THAT'S
IMPORTANT.
GOOD, THIS IS GOOD, THIS SHOULD
MAKE YOU DIZZY, RIGHT?
NOW-- AND DON'T LOOK AT ME AS
IF I UNDERSTAND THIS EITHER,
OKAY?
BECAUSE I DON'T.
WHEN I WAS 20 YEARS YOUNGER, I
THOUGHT IT WAS EXTREMELY
IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THIS,
AND THAT'S WHY I DID THIS
MASTER'S DEGREE IN PHILOSOPHY
OF SCIENCE, STUDYING THE
PHILOSOPHY OF QUANTUM MECHANICS
AT CAMBRIDGE.
I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND IT BEFORE,
AND I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND IT
AFTERWARDS, AND YOU KNOW WHAT?
2O YEARS DOWN THE LINE, I THINK
I'VE COME TO ACCEPT THIS.
IT'S LIKE, I DON'T UNDERSTAND
IT, BUT NEITHER DOES ANYBODY
ELSE.
YOU KNOW, I'M OKAY, YOU'RE
OKAY, RIGHT?

[Audience Laughter]

Seth continues IT'S OKAY.
IT'S OKAY, ALL RIGHT?
SO QUANTUM BITS, ALSO CALLED 1-
BITS, CAN REGISTER ZERO AND ONE
AT THE SAME TIME.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.
BUT THE NICE THING ABOUT BEING
AN ENGINEER, OR AT LEAST A
PROFESSOR OF ENGINEERING, IS
THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO
UNDERSTAND IT IN ORDER TO MAKE
IT WORK, ALL RIGHT?
SO I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT
MEANS, BUT I KNOW WHAT I CAN DO
WITH IT.
AND WHAT CAN I DO WITH IT?
I CAN BUILD A QUANTUM COMPUTER.
SO FOR INSTANCE, SUPPOSE THAT
ZERO TELLS MY COMPUTER TO ADD
2+2, AND WE'LL SEE IN A SECOND
I'LL DESCRIBE BRIEFLY,
BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE THAT MUCH
TIME, HOW UH...
HOW QUANTUM COMPUTERS WORK.
AND SUPPOSE ONE SAYS OKAY, ADD 3+1.

He writes down both calculations and continues AND IT'S NOT THAT HARD JUST TO
TAKE SAY, A BUNCH OF ATOMS IN A
MOLECULE.
THEY'RE STORING BITS OF
INFORMATION ALREADY.
THEY INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER
AT THE MOLECULAR SCALE.
THEY'RE ONE ANGSTROM APART, YOU
KNOW, 1 10 BILLIONTH OF A METRE
APART WITHIN THIS MOLECULE.
IF YOU ZAP THEM WITH LIGHT, YOU
CAN MAKE THEM COMPUTE.
IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO MAKE
THEM, YOU KNOW, ADD 2+2, ADD
3+1.
INDEED, IF PEOPLE HAD THOUGHT
OF DOING THIS, THEY COULD HAVE
DONE IT BACK IN 1950, STRANGELY
ENOUGH, BUT THEY DIDN'T THINK
OF DOING THIS.
IT WASN'T UNTIL TEN YEARS AGO
THAT I POINTED OUT THAT YOU
COULD DO THIS.
ALL RIGHT?
SO THAT'S FINE.
ZERO SAYS ADD 2+2, ONE SAYS ADD
3+1.
BUT WHAT ABOUT A COMPUTER WHERE
I PUT IN THIS QUANTUM BIT WHICH
IS ZERO AND ONE AT THE SAME
TIME, THIS QUANTUM COMPUTER.
THIS QUANTUM
COMPUTER THEN, ADDS 2+2 AND
3+1, AT THE SAME TIME.
IT DOES THIS AND THAT AT ONCE.
QUANTUM COMPUTERS HAVE THIS
INTRINSIC MULTITASKING ABILITY
THAT ORDINARY COMPUTERS DON'T.
WHY?
BECAUSE THEIR BITS ARE QUANTUM
MECHANICAL, AND BECAUSE THESE
QUANTUM BITS, FOR REASONS
NOBODY UNDERSTANDS, CAN BE ZERO
AND ONE AT THE SAME TIME, JUST
BECAUSE ELECTRONS CAN BE HERE
AND THERE AT THE SAME TIME.
AS A RESULT, QUANTUM COMPUTERS
CAN DO TWO THINGS AT ONCE.
OR FOUR THINGS AT ONCE, OR
EIGHT THINGS AT ONCE, OR A
MILLION THINGS AT ONCE, OR 2 TO
THE 300 THINGS AT ONCE.
AND I PICK 2 TO THE 300,
BECAUSE THAT'S EQUAL TO THE
NUMBER OF PARTICLES IN THE
UNIVERSE.
SO A QUANTUM COMPUTER WITH 300
BITS CAN DO AS MANY THINGS AS
THERE ARE PARTICLES IN THE
UNIVERSE.

(music plays)
A gray slate reads "Are they predictable?"

Seth says SO HOW
PREDICTABLE IS IT, THAT IT'S
GOING TO DO THE SAME THING
EVERY TIME?
WELL, SO LET ME ACTUALLY STEP
BACK FROM THAT FOR JUST A
SECOND, BECAUSE I WANT TO
TEASE-- MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE
UNDERSTAND WHAT'S GOING ON
HERE.
IF I JUST HAVE THIS STATE WHICH
IS ZERO AND ONE AT THE SAME
TIME, AND I ASK IT, SAY IT'S
ELECTRON HERE AND THERE AT THE
SAME TIME, AND I MAKE A
MEASUREMENT OF WHERE THE
ELECTRON IS.
I ASK THE ELECTRON, ARE YOU
HERE OR ARE YOU THERE.
THEN HALF THE TIME THE ELECTRON
WITH SHOW UP HERE, AND HALF THE
TIME IT WILL SHOW UP THERE.
AND IT'S PURELY CHANCE WHERE IT
SHOWS UP.
SO THERE'S THIS INTRINSIC
CHANCINESS IN QUANTUM
MECHANICS.
GOD PLAYS DICE, OR THIS IS HOW
GOD PLAYS DICE.
I MEAN, ALL THIS TALK ABOUT GOD
I THINK IS A LITTLE UNFAIR TO
GOD, WHETHER SHE EXISTS OR NOT.
OKAY, SO GOD PLAYS DICE,
CHANCINESS GETS INTRODUCED AT
THE QUANTUM MECHANICAL LEVEL.
HOWEVER, THAT KIND OF
CHANCINESS IS DIFFERENT FROM
THE KIND OF CHANCINESS ANY
ERRORS THAT ARE INDUCED HERE.
SO IF WE WANT TO SAY, IF THIS
BIT IS ZERO, ADD 2+2.
THAT DEPENDS ON OUR ABILITY TO
MANIPULATE AND TALK WITH THESE
INDIVIDUAL ATOMS, AND THAT CAN
BE DONE TO VERY HIGH DEGREES OF
PRECISION.
EACH OPERATION CAN TAKE PLACE
TO AN ACCURACY OF 99.8 percent
ACCURACY.
SO WE CAN ACTUALLY ADD 2+2 IN A
PRETTY MUCH BUG FREE FASHION.
AND SIMILARLY WE CAN ADD 3+1 IN
A BUG FREE FASHION, AND AS A
RESULT, WE CAN MAKE A QUANTUM
COMPUTER THAT DOES THIS AND
THAT AT THE SAME TIME IN A
PRETTY MUCH BUG FREE FASHION.
THAT'S NOT TO SAY IT'S ALL FUN
AND GAMES DOWN AT THAT LEVEL,
BECAUSE IN FACT, REMEMBER THAT
THE THING THAT MAKES IT CHOOSE
TO BE EITHER ZERO OR ONE, IS
SOMETHING COMING IN AND GETTING
INFORMATION ABOUT IT.
SOMETHING MEASURING IT.
THAT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A HUMAN
BEING MEASURING WHETHER THE
ELECTRON IS HERE OR THERE.
IF ANOTHER ELECTRON COMES
ALONG, AND INTERACTS WITH THIS
ELECTRON AND FIGURES OUT, WELL
IS IT HERE OR IS IT THERE,
WHICH IS PRETTY EASY, WHICH CAN
BE PRETTY EASY, THEN THE BIT
WILL BE EITHER ZERO OR ONE, AND
YOU'RE NO LONGER ADDING 2+2 AND
3+1 AT THE SAME TIME, YOU'RE
DOING EITHER ONE OR THE OTHER,
AND A CLASSICAL COMPUTER CAN DO
THAT.
SO YOU HAVE TO BE VERY CAREFUL
WHEN YOU BUILD A QUANTUM
COMPUTER, TO INSULATE YOUR
QUANTUM BITS FROM THE
SURROUNDING, TO MAKE SURE THAT
THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE
THAT'S PEEKING IN.
THAT'S WHY IT'S CONSIDERED VERY
RUDE TO LOOK AT SOMEBODY ELSE'S
QUANTUM COMPUTER WHEN THEY'RE
PERFORMING A COMPUTATION.
IT'S A MODESTY AND PRIVACY ISSUES.

A gray slate reads "Are there only three states?"

Seth says THERE'S
ACTUALLY, IN FACT THERE'S A
WHOLE CONTINUUM OF STATES
BECAUSE YOU COULD HAVE IT BE
EITHER THERE OR THERE, OR YOU
KNOW, LESS HERE AND MORE THERE,
SO IT CAN VARY CONTINUOUSLY.

He draws a double wave over both calculations and continues SO I TOLD YOU THAT THERE'S THIS
DISCREET CHUNKY QUALITY TO
QUANTUM MECHANICS, THAT YOU
KNOW, THINGS THAT ARE
CONTINUOUS APPEAR TO BE
DISCREET, BUT THERE'S ALSO THIS
CONTINUOUS ASPECT TO QUANTUM
MECHANICS, IT COMES FROM THIS
WAVE LIKE NATURE, AND IT'S THAT
CONTINUOUS NATURE THAT WE'RE
PLAYING WITH WHEN WE PLAY THESE
GAMES WITH ATOMS AND MAKE THEM
COMPUTE

A gray slate reads "How many answers are there to these computations?"

Seth says YOU ARE ONLY
GOING TO GET ONE ANSWER, AND
THE WHOLE TRICK OF QUANTUM
COMPUTATION IS, AT THE END, TO
COMBINE THESE WAVES IN THE
FINAL ANALYSIS, SO YOU CAN GET
SOME INTERESTING ANSWER.
IN THIS CASE THE ANSWER 4 EACH
TIME, OKAY?
BUT IN FACT THERE ARE PROBLEMS.
LIKE, A FAMOUS PROBLEM THAT
QUANTUM COMPUTERS CAN SOLVE
THAT CLASSIC COMPUTERS CAN'T IS
BREAKING CODES, THE CODES YOU
USE WHEN YOU BUY SOMETHING OVER
THE INTERNET.
SO YOU KNOW, WHEN I-- SUPPOSE I
BUY GREEN COFFEE BEANS LET'S
SAY, OVER THE INTERNET.
THAT'S SOMETHING I FOOLISHLY
HAVE BEEN DOING LATELY.
THE COFFEE CORRAL SENDS ME A...
WHAT'S CALLED A PUBLIC KEY AND
I CAN USE THAT TO ENCRYPT MY
CREDIT CARD INFORMATION, SEND
IT OFF TO COFFEE CORRAL AND
THEY AND ONLY THEY POSSESS THE
PRIVATE KEY.
BUT IF YOU HAD A QUANTUM
COMPUTER YOU COULD BREAK THIS
CODE BECAUSE YOU COULD DEDUCE
THE PRIVATE KEY FROM THE PUBLIC KEY.
SO IF YOU HAD A QUANTUM
COMPUTER, YOU COULD DO THIS,
AND THE WAY THAT YOU DO THIS
IS, YOU ESSENTIALLY MAKE THESE
WAVES INTERFERE WITH EACH
OTHER.
SO BECAUSE THESE ARE WAVES,
LIKE FOR INSTANCE, IMAGINE THIS
IS A-- SOMETHING THAT USED TO
HAPPEN TO ME A LOT WHEN MY KIDS
WERE YOUNGER.

He draws two waves, on either side of both calculations.

He continues SUPPOSE MY DAUGHTER EMMA IS ON
THIS SIDE OF THE BATHTUB AND
MAKES A WAVE GOING THIS WAY,
AND ZOE, WHO IS OVER ON THIS
SIDE OF THE BATHTUB, MAKES A
WAVE THAT'S GOING THAT WAY.
AND I'M SITTING HERE IN THE
MIDDLE...

He draws a stick figure man and continues I DON'T HAVE THAT MUCH HAIR,
OKAY?
I'M SITTING HERE IN THE MIDDLE.
WHEN THESE TWO WAVES COME
TOGETHER, THE EXHIBIT WHAT'S
KNOWN AS POSITIVE INTERFERENCE.
AND SPLASH OUT ALL OVER ME, ALL RIGHT?
SO THE TRICKY
PART ABOUT QUANTUM COMPUTATION
IS GETTING THIS POSITIVE
INTERFERENCE TO HAPPEN.
BUT IF YOU CAN DO THAT, THEN
YOU CAN DO THINGS THAT, YOU
KNOW, WILL STRIKE FEAR IN THE
HEARTS OF E-BAY, THE CIA, THE
NSA AND OTHER As.
SO THIS WOULD BE
A VERY DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY,
QUANTUM COMPUTATION.
LUCKILY IT'S HANDLED IN THE
UNITED STATES BY-- PARTLY BY
THE DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES
OFFICE, AND I DEFINITELY WANT A
BLACK JUMPSUIT THAT SAYS,
DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES OFFICE
ON IT.
I MEAN COME ON, WHAT COULD BE
BETTER THAN THAT.
BUT THEY REFUSE TO MAKE THEM
FOR ME.
I-- JUST A HAT, JUST A HAT,
PLEASE.
OKAY.
ALL RIGHT, SO HOW DO YOU BUILD
QUANTUM COMPUTERS?
WELL THERE'S LOTS OF WAYS OF
DOING IT.
FOR INSTANCE, YOU CAN TAKE JUST
A BUNCH OF ATOMS IN A MOLECULE.

He draws several small circles and continues THIS IS MY PICTURE OF A MOLECULE.
AND BASICALLY YOU ZAP THEM WITH
MICROWAVES...
EACH ATOM IN THIS MOLECULE
LISTENS TO MICROWAVES, RESPONDS
TO MICROWAVES OF A SLIGHTLY
DIFFERENT FREQUENCY.
AS IF THEY LISTENED TO
DIFFERENT RADIO STATIONS.
FOR INSTANCE THIS ATOM OVER
HERE COULD LISTEN TO 89.7, WGBH
IN BOSTON.
THIS ONE COULD LISTEN TO 102.5,
WCRB, SO IF I PUT ON LIGHT AT
89.7 A MILLION TIMES AT 7, THIS
ATOM WILL FLIP.
YOU KNOW, SO AND I...
AND WHEN I SAY FLIP, I MEAN
THAT THESE THINGS ARE ACTUALLY
LITTLE MAGNETS LIKE WE HAD
BEFORE, NORTH AND SOUTH.
SO WHEN I PUT ON LIGHT, I FLIP
THESE MAGNETS, BECAUSE THE
NUCLEONIC ATOMS HAVE MAGNETS ON
THEM.
THIS IS THE 102.5, THE WCRB
ONE.
WHEN I PUT ON LIGHT AT 102.5,
THIS ATOM WILL FLIP.
AND THEN THE ATOMS ARE ALL
INTERACTING WITH EACH OTHER
ALREADY, BECAUSE THEY'RE DOWN
THERE, YOU KNOW, ONE ANGSTROM
APART, 1 10 BILLIONTH OF A
METRE APART, AND IF YOU'RE
SENSITIVE TO THE WAY THEY
INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER, AND
ARE CAREFUL ABOUT HOW YOU FLIP
THEM, YOU CAN MAKE THEM
COMPUTE.
IT'S NOT SO HARD.
AND THIS IS WHAT I SHOWED A
LITTLE MORE THAN TEN YEARS AGO,
PRIOR...
THE NOTION OF DOING QUANTUM
COMPUTATION WAS PROPOSED BACK
IN THE EARLY '80s BY RICHARD
FEINMAN, PAUL BENIOFF, DAVID
DEUTCH AND OTHER, BUT NOBODY
HAD A CLUE HOW YOU MIGHT BUILD
A QUANTUM COMPUTER.
AND IN 1992, 1993, I SHOWED
THAT OH, IF YOU JUST TAKE OFF
THE SHELF STUFF, ATOMS AND
MOLECULES, ZAP THEM WITH LASERS
AND MICROWAVES, BUT ARE
SENSITIVE TO THE WAY THAT YOU
ZAP THEM, THEN YOU CAN MAKE
THEM COMPUTE.
AND NOW THERE ARE MANY, MANY
PEOPLE, THOUSANDS OF GROUPS
AROUND THE WORLD BUILDING
QUANTUM COMPUTERS.
IT'S ACTUALLY-- IT'S HARD BUT
IT'S NOT THAT HARD, OKAY?
AND BY THE WAY, I SHOULD
MENTION, AT THE RISK OF-- I
DON'T WANT TO GO OVERTIME, I
SHOULD FINISH UP SOON.
BUT I'M TRYING TO BE SENSITIVE
IN MY LANGUAGE ABOUT HERE,
LIKE, YOU WERE SENSITIVE TO MY
FEELINGS BEFORE, EVEN AMERICANS
CAN OCCASIONALLY BE SENSITIVE.
SO I WAS AT A WEDDING A FEW
YEARS AGO OF MY COUSIN WHO IS A
SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGIST, AND I
WAS SEATED AT A TABLE OF ALL
SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGISTS, AND I
WAS SEATED NEXT TO BARBARA
ERINRIGHT, YOU KNOW, WHO IS A
VERY LEFT WING SOCIAL CRITIC IN
THE UNITED STATES, AND SHE
ASKED ME WHAT I DID.
AND I SAID, "OH, I TAKE THE
INNATE INFORMATION PROCESSING
ABILITY OF ATOMS AND I EXPLOIT
THAT TO MAKE THEM COMPUTE."
AND THEY ALL WENT...
OH, THAT SOUND SO HORRIBLE, SO
EXPLOITATIVE, THAT'S AWFUL.
[Laughing]
CAN'T SOMEONE STOP THIS RIGHT NOW?
[Laughing]
SO THEN THEY CALMED DOWN, AND
BARBARA ERINRIGHT, SHE KNOWS
ACTUALLY, SHE HAS A DEGREE IN
CHEMISTRY, SHE KNOWS A LOT
ABOUT THIS STUFF.
SO THEY GOT ME TO TALK ABOUT IT
SOME MORE, AND THEY SAID OH,
OKAY.
AND THE PERSON SHE WAS WITH, AN
OLDER BLACK, AFRICAN AMERICAN
ACTIVIST FROM GREENSBORO, NORTH
CAROLINA, SAID TO ME, YOU KNOW,
SETH, NEXT TIME YOU DESCRIBE
WHAT YOU DO TO PEOPLE, I
SUGGEST YOU SAY THAT YOU
EMPOWER ATOMS TO COMPUTE.

[Audience Laughter]

Seth laughs and continues
IT WAS A GREAT MOMENT IN MY
LIFE, BECAUSE I WENT...
SUDDENLY, I'D BEEN FOR YEARS AN
EXPLOITER OF ATOMS, AND
SUDDENLY I WENT IN TEN SECONDS
TO BEING AN EMPOWERER OF ATOMS.
IT WAS WONDERFUL.
JUST LIKE THE PEOPLE AT THE PI,
I SHOULD SAY, EMPOWERERS OF
ATOMS RIGHT AND LEFT.
THERE ARE LOTS OF OTHER WAYS TO
DO IT.
YOU CAN SET UP A BUNCH OF
ATOMS, TRAP THEM IN AN OPTICAL
CAVITY.

He draws a small box and continues THIS IS MY PICTURE OF AN
OPTICAL CAVITY.
IT'S LIKE A COFFEE CAN THAT
HOLDS PHOTONS.
AND ZAP THEM WITH LASERS.
ZAP THEM WITH LASERS, THAT'S A
GOOD WAY TO MAKE THINGS
COMPUTE.
YOU CAN MAKE LITTLE
SUPERCONDUCTING CIRCUITS.
THIS IS EXTREMELY SKETCHY, AS
YOU CAN SEE.
THESE ARE SUPERCONDUCTING
CIRCUITS WHERE YOU CAN GET A
BILLION ELECTRONS GOING THIS
WAY AROUND THE CIRCUIT AND ALSO
GOING THAT WAY AROUND THE
CIRCUIT AT THE SAME TIME.
SO GOING THIS WAY AROUND THE
CIRCUIT IS ZERO, GOING THAT WAY
AROUND THE CIRCUIT IS ONE.
AND THEY CAN ALL BE GOING THIS
WAY AND THAT WAY AT THE SAME
TIME.
AND DON'T ASK ME HOW THAT IS, I
JUST KNOW THAT YOU CAN DO IT,
RIGHT?
I DON'T KNOW HOW IT CAN BE.
WHAT OTHER TECHNIQUES?
WELL YOU CAN BUILD LITTLE
QUANTUM DOTS.
THIS IS A PICTURE OF A QUANTUM
DOT.
AND YOU CAN HAVE ELECTRONS THAT
HOP FROM ONE SIDE TO ANOTHER.
REMEMBER ELECTRONS ARE BLUE IN
MY COSMOS.
ALSO THEY DIDN'T GIVE ME ANY
YELLOW HERE, SORRY.
SO I CAN'T DRAW THEM YELLOW.
THERE ARE LOTS OF WAYS OF DOING
THIS.
OH, AND YOU CAN HOOK THEM UP.
YOU CAN HOOK THESE UP TO
QUANTUM COMMUNICATION LINES,
AND YOU CAN HAVE PHOTONS COMING
FROM FAR AS WELL AS, AND YOU
CAN MOVE QUANTUM BITS FROM HERE
TO PLACES HUNDREDS OF
KILOMETRES DISTANT.
SO THIS IS SOMETHING THAT NOT
ONLY CAN BE DONE, BUT IS BEING
DONE, BUILDING QUANTUM
COMPUTERS, MAKING THEM AND
EXPLORING THEIR PROPERTIES.
SO A QUESTION
THAT SOME AMERICAN AUDIENCES
ASK ME AT THIS POINT IS, SO
WHAT?
RIGHT?
SO WHAT, SO YOU BUILD THESE
QUANTUM COMPUTERS, BIG DEAL.
WELL BUILDING
QUANTUM COMPUTERS IS, YOU KNOW,
THE REASON WE DO IT IS-- THE
REASON ALL ENGINEERS DO STUFF
IS BECAUSE IT'S FUN, RIGHT, AND
BECAUSE WE CAN.
THIS IS WHY ENGINEERS ARE
DANGEROUS, AND WHEN THEY START
USING TERMS LIKE EXPLOITING
THINGS TO MAKE STUFF HAPPEN,
YOU SHOULD REALLY BE CAREFUL
ABOUT THAT.
WE'RE DOING THIS BECAUSE WE
CAN.
WE CAN BUILD THE QUANTUM
TECHNOLOGIES TO DO THIS.
AND ACTUALLY, I SHOULD SAY, IN
MY PERSONAL CASE, EVEN THOUGH,
YOU KNOW, I DO HAVE MONEY TO DO
PUBLIC RESEARCH FOR PLACES LIKE
THE NSA AND THE DISRUPTIVE
TECHNOLOGIES OFFICE, ALL RIGHT,
THEY WANT TO BUILD BIG QUANTUM
COMPUTERS TO YOU KNOW, FACTOR
NUMBERS AND BREAK PUBLIC CRYPTO
KEY SYSTEMS.
I DO THIS BECAUSE THIS IS A WAY
TO UNDERSTAND WHAT'S HAPPENING
IN THE UNIVERSE AT ITS MOST
MICROSCOPIC AND FUNDAMENTAL
SCALES.
THESE QUANTUM COMPUTERS WE
BUILD, YOU COULDN'T MAKE A
SMALLER COMPUTER, YOU COULDN'T
MAKE ONE THAT STORED
INFORMATION WITH LESS, BECAUSE
THERE ISN'T ANY LESS TO GO TO.
ONCE YOU'RE DOWN AT THE LEVEL
OF ONE QUANTUM, ONE BIT, YOU
HAVE NOTHING BELOW THAT.
ZERO QUANTA... ZERO BITS,
RIGHT?
SO WE'RE ACTUALLY LOOKING AT
THE UNIVERSE AT ITS MOST
MICROSCOPIC SCALE, AND MAKING
THINGS COMPUTE.
AND INDEED, IN DOING THAT
AGAIN, WE'RE SIMPLY HACKING
INTO THE UNDERLYING
COMPUTATIONAL ABILITY OF THE
UNIVERSE.
THE UNIVERSE WAS COMPUTING
ALREADY AND HAS BEEN FOR 13.8
BILLION YEARS, COMPUTING LOTS
AND LOTS AND LOTS OF STUFF,
MOST OF IT LITTLE RANDOM
MOTIONS OF MOLECULES.
BUT SOME OF IT, YOU KNOW, THE
COMPOSITION OF MY DNA.
ALL RIGHT, AND SOME OF IT,
WHAT'S GOING ON INSIDE MY HEAD,
AND WHAT'S GOING ON INSIDE YOUR
HEAD.
SO THERE'S ALL SORTS OF
INTERESTING-- WELL MAYBE WELL
INTERESTING IS SUBJECTIVE.
ALL SORTS OF INTERESTING THINGS
GOING ON OUT THERE BECAUSE OF
THIS COMPUTATIONAL NATURE OF
THE UNIVERSE, AND I THINK THIS
IS IMPORTANT FOR UNDERSTANDING
WHAT THE UNIVERSE IS, AND HOW...
WHAT IT HAS DONE IN THE PAST
AND WHAT IT WILL DO IN THE
FUTURE.
IN PARTICULAR, I CLAIM THAT
THIS COMPUTATIONAL ABILITY OF
THE UNIVERSE ALLOWS US TO
UNDERSTAND SOMETHING WHICH THE
ORDINARY LAWS OF PHYSICS DON'T.
WHY IS THE UNIVERSE COMPLEX?
WHERE DID ALL THIS INFORMATION
COME TO?
I MEAN THINGS ARE OUT OF
CONTROL, RIGHT?
IT'S INCREDIBLY COMPLEX, IT'S
AMAZING, IT'S REMARKABLE, IT'S
WONDERFUL, IT'S HORRIBLE, IT'S
ALL THOSE THINGS.
BUT HUGE AMOUNTS OF STUFF IS
GOING ON.
IT'S NOT SIMPLE, WHERE DID ALL
THESE BITS COME FROM.
WELL, NOW YOU ACTUALLY KNOW
WHERE BITS COME FROM IN THE
UNIVERSE.
BECAUSE REMEMBER THESE QUANTUM
BITS, WHERE ELECTRONS ARE HERE
AND THERE AT THE SAME TIME?
IF THEY INTERACT WITH OTHER
ELECTRONS, THEN SUDDENLY
THEY'RE HERE OR THERE AT THE
SAME TIME.
A BIT IS ESSENTIALLY PRODUCED.
YOU GO FROM HAVING NO BITS TO
HAVING A BIT.
FOR EXAMPLE HERE IS A TYPICAL
KIND OF BIT IN THE EARLY UNIVERSE.

He draws a wave with two little bumps, under which he writes 0 and 1, and continues HERE IS A QUANTUM BIT WHERE
THERE IS A LITTLE TINY
OVERDENSITY OF ENERGY HERE AND
A LITTLE TINY OVERDENSITY OF
ENERGY THERE.
LET'S SAY HERE IS HERE, AND
THERE IS 100 MILLION LIGHT
YEARS OFF IN THAT DIRECTION.
NOW, WHY IS OUR UNIVERSE HERE
RATHER THAN OVER THERE?
WELL BECAUSE IN THIS COMPONENT
OF THE WAVE AS TIME GOES ON,
TIME ALWAYS GOES UP IN GENERAL
RELATIVITY.
THIS IS-- I LIKE THIS, BECAUSE
FOR ENGINEERS, TIME GOES FROM
LEFT TO RIGHT, FOR PHYSICISTS
FOR SOME REASON, IT GOES FROM
RIGHT TO LEFT.
BUT FOR PEOPLE STUDYING THE
UNIVERSE AS A WHOLE, IT ALWAYS
GOES FROM BOTTOM TO TOP, WHICH
I THINK IS REALLY LOVELY,
BECAUSE IT MEANS THAT THE
UNIVERSE IS GROWING.
RIGHT, FROM... AND WHO KNOWS
WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN.
SO AS TIME GOES ON, STUFF
CLUMPS AROUND HERE.
OKAY, THE UNIVERSE IS CLUMPY.
AS THEY USED TO SAY IN MY HIGH
SCHOOL, GRAVITY SUCKS.
EXCUSE ME.
OVER HERE, AND THIS COMPONENT
STARTS CLUMPING, AND AFTER A
WHILE, IT CLUMPS MORE AND MORE,
AND YOU GET GALAXIES, AND YOU
KNOW, STARS, PLANETS, ETCETERA.
BUT THE INFORMATION... THE
INFORMATION THAT CAUSED THE
UNIVERSE... OUR GALAXY TO BE
HERE RATHER THAN 100 MILLION
LIGHT YEARS OFF IN THAT
DIRECTION, CAME FROM SOME
LITTLE TINY QUANTUM
FLUCTUATION, SOME LITTLE TINY
QUANTUM BIT, BACK AT THE VERY
BEGINNING OF THE UNIVERSE.
SO WHAT'S HAPPENING IS, THE
UNIVERSE IS COMPUTING AND
RANDOM BITS ARE BEING INJECTED
INTO IT CONSTANTLY FROM THESE
LITTLE TINY QUANTUM
FLUCTUATIONS.
INFORMATION IS COMING FROM
QUANTUM MECHANICS.
IT'S COMING FROM GOD PLAYING
DICE.
NOW YOU MAY SAY, BUT HOLD IT,
THESE BITS ARE JUST SHOWING UP
RANDOM, YOU KNOW, HERE OR THERE
AT RANDOM.
HOW IS THIS AN EXPLANATION FOR
WHAT WE SEE?
WELL THAT ON ITS OWN IS NOT.
IN FACT, THE NOTION THAT MAYBE
THE UNIVERSE JUST AROSE
COMPLETELY AT RANDOM WAS
THOUGHT ABOUT QUITE A LOT AT
THE END OF THE 19th CENTURY,
AND PEOPLE REJECTED IT.
BUT NOW LET'S LOOK AT ANOTHER
PICTURE, AND I DON KNOW THE
ORIGINS OF THIS PICTURE.
IT'S BEEN AROUND FOR, YOU KNOW,
SINCE THE '80s.
MONKEYS TYPING INTO A COMPUTER.
SO TAKE THESE RANDOM STRINGS OF
BITS THAT THE MONKEYS GENERATE
AND USE THEM AS INSTRUCTIONS
FOR A COMPUTER, BECAUSE
REMEMBER, THAT'S HOW COMPUTERS
INTERPRET BITS, THEY TAKE...
ZERO MEANS DO THIS, ONE MEANS
DO THAT.
SO INSTEAD OF JUST TAKING
RANDOM GOBBLEDEGOOK, TAKE THAT
RANDOM GOBBLEDEGOOK AND
INTERPRET IT.
HAVE THE COMPUTER ASSIGN IT MEANING, ALL RIGHT?
WHAT HAPPENS THEN?
WELL THERE'S A RATHER ELEGANT
AND LOVELY MATHEMATICAL THEORY
CALLED THE THEORY OF
ALGORITHMIC INFORMATION, WHICH
IS ESSENTIALLY THE THEORY OF
MONKEYS TYPING INTO COMPUTERS.
IF YOU HAVE
MONKEYS THAT TYPE INTO
COMPUTERS, WHAT'S THE
PROBABILITY OF INTERESTING
THINGS HAPPEN.
AND IT'S A BEAUTIFUL THEORY,
AND YOU CAN PROVE
MATHEMATICALLY THAT THESE
MONKEYS HAVE A VERY GOOD CHANCE
OF PRODUCING ALL SORTS OF
COMPLEX THINGS.
WHY IS THAT?
WELL REMEMBER THE ORIGINAL
STATE OF THE UNIVERSE HAD
ALMOST NO INFORMATION IN IT,
AND THE LAWS OF PHYSICS ARE
VERY CONCISE.
THEY COULD HAVE ONLY A FEW
BITS.
THE MONKEYS COULD HIT ON THAT,
RIGHT?
THEY COULD EASILY HIT ON THE
LAWS OF PHYSICS.
ANOTHER THING THAT THEY MIGHT
START DOING IS INSTRUCT THIS
COMPUTER TO PRODUCE ALL
MATHEMATICAL THEOREMS, PROVE
THEM ALL.
ALL PROVABLE MATHEMATICAL
THEOREMS.
QUITE A BIG ORDER, BUT THAT
WOULD HAPPEN, IN FACT THERE ARE
VERY SHORT PROGRAMS THAT WOULD
ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.
OR CREATE ALL POSSIBLE
MATHEMATICAL STRUCTURES, ALL
POSSIBLE DESCRIBABLE
MATHEMATICAL STRUCTURES, OR
DESCRIBE THE LAWS OF CHEMISTRY,
OKAY?
THE MONKEYS WILL HAVE A GOOD
CHANCE OF DOING THIS... MONKEYS
TYPING INTO COMPUTERS AS
OPPOSED TO MONKEYS TYPING INTO
TYPEWRITERS.
SO YOU SEE FOR THIS TO EXPLAIN
WHERE ALL THIS COMPLEXITY COMES
FROM, WE NEED TWO THINGS.
WE NEED A COMPUTER AND WE NEED
MONKEYS, OKAY?
BY THE WAY, THIS WAS ACTUALLY
AN EXPERIMENT THAT WAS DONE AT
THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM.
THEY TOOK MONKEYS AT THE
NOTTINGHAM ZOO, CRESTED
MACAWS, I THINK AND THEN THEY
GAVE THEM A COMPUTER COVERED
WITH PLASTIC AND TAUGHT THEM TO
TYPE ON IT.
ACTUALLY, FIRST, THE MONKEYS...
IT'S A GOOD THING THEY COVERED
IT WITH PLASTIC, BECAUSE THE
FIRST THING THEY DID WAS
DEFECATE AND URINATE ON THE
COMPUTER AND THEN THEY POUNDED
ON IT, AND FINALLY THEY FIGURED
OUT HOW TO TYPE, AND AT THAT
POINT THE EXHIBITED A FONDNESS
FOR THE LETTER "S" IS WHAT I
UNDERSTAND.
BUT WE HAVE A COMPUTER, IT'S
THE UNIVERSE ITSELF.
IT'S BEEN KNOWN FOR 150 YEARS,
THE UNIVERSE IS COMPUTING, IT'S
PROCESSING INFORMATION.
AND WE HAVE MONKEYS, WE HAVE
THESE LITTLE QUANTUM
FLUCTUATIONS THAT ARE
PROGRAMMING THE UNIVERSE.
BECAUSE IF YOU TRACE, FOR
INSTANCE, WHY IS MY DNA
DIFFERENT FROM MY BROTHER'S,
YOU KNOW, OKAY, WELL MY PARENTS
HAD SEX, MY GENES, THEIR GENES
GOT SCRAMBLED UP TOGETHER, AND
I GOT DEALT ON HAND OF DNA.
AND MY BROTHER GOT DEALT
ANOTHER HAND OF DNA, ONE
COMBINATION VERSUS ANOTHER.
WHERE DID THOSE LITTLE
DIFFERENCES COME FROM?
THOSE ARE LITTLE TINY QUANTUM
ACCIDENTS, TO TRACE THEM BACK
TO THEIR ORIGIN, AKA MONKEYS,
RIGHT?
THESE LITTLE QUANTUM ACCIDENTS
MONKEYED WITH MY DNA AND I GOT
WHAT I GOT AND HE GOT WHAT HE
GOT, AND BELIEVE ME, MY BROTHER
AND I ARGUE A LOT OVER, LIKE
THIS ISSUE.
OKAY, IN OTHER WORDS, WE HAVE
WHAT DOES THIS THEORY OF THE
COMPUTING UNIVERSE GIVE US THAT
WE DON'T HAVE ALREADY?
IT GIVES US AN EXPLANATION FOR
WHY WE ARE HERE, AND EVERYTHING
ELSE, WITH ALL OF ITS WONDER
AND HORROR AND MAJESTY AND
LITTLE HUMBLE THINGS GOING ON.
ALL THIS COMPLEXITY COMES
BECAUSE THE UNIVERSE IS
COMPUTING.
IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING THAT'S
COMPUTING AND IT'S BEING
PROGRAMMED BY LITTLE RANDOM
FLUCTUATIONS THEN YOU SHOULDN'T
BE SURPRISED THAT THINGS LIKE
STARS AND GALAXIES FORM, THAT
THINGS LIKE LIFE FORMS, THAT
THINGS LIKE HUMAN BEINGS ARISE
AND START SPEAKING, AND START
GENERATING, START MAKING
COMPUTERS THEMSELVES.
THAT IS NOT A SURPRISE.
IN OTHER WORDS, NOT ONLY, IF
YOU HAVE MONKEYS TYPING INTO
COMPUTERS, NOT ONLY DO THEY NOT
GENERATE NOTHING, LIKE MONKEYS
TYPING INTO TYPEWRITERS, IN
FACT THEY COULD GENERATE
EVERYTHING, AND THAT'S ALL I
HAVE TO SAY... THANK YOU.

[Applause]

Watch: Seth Lloyd on Programming the Universe