From Natalie Wolchover at Quanta:
In recent years, a revolutionary understanding of thermodynamics has emerged that explains this subjectivity using quantum information theory — “a toddler among physical theories,” as del Rio and co-authors put it, that describes the spread of information through quantum systems. Just as thermodynamics initially grew out of trying to improve steam engines, today’s thermodynamicists are mulling over the workings of quantum machines. Shrinking technology — a single-ion engine and three-atom fridge were both experimentally realized for the first time within the past year — is forcing them to extend thermodynamics to the quantum realm, where notions like temperature and work lose their usual meanings, and the classical laws don’t necessarily apply.
“Many exciting things have been thrown on the table, a bit in disorder; we need to put them in order,” said Valerio Scarani, a quantum information theorist and thermodynamicist at the National University of Singapore who was part of the team that reported the quantum fridge. “We need a bit of synthesis. We need to understand your idea fits there; mine fits here. We have eight definitions of work; maybe we should try to figure out which one is correct in which situation, not just come up with a ninth definition of work.”
Oppenheim and Popescu fully agree with Hänggi that there’s a risk of downplaying the universe’s physicality. “I’m wary of information theorists who believe everything is information,” Oppenheim said. “When the steam engine was being developed and thermodynamics was in full swing, there were people positing that the universe was just a big steam engine.” In reality, he said, “it’s much messier than that.” What he likes about quantum thermodynamics is that “you have these two fundamental quantities — energy and quantum information — and these two things meet together. That to me is what makes it such a beautiful theory.” More.
But steady on. The universe obviously isn’t “just a big steam engine” any more than it is just a giant cabbage. But it may very well be all information. These guys can back away from the idea if they want but it can still be true.
See also: Philip Cunningham: Everything IS information I was surprised to learn that, counter-intuitive to materialistic thought (and to every kid who has ever taken a math exam), a computer does not consume energy during actual computation but will only consume energy when information is erased from it,,, such as what happens when a computer’s memory is cleared or with the merging of two computation paths where you put in two bits into a logical operation, and you get one bit out. This counter-intuitive fact of energy expenditure during erasure is formally known as Landauer’s Principle.
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