April 13, 2024

A 7-minute guide to the relationship between quantum mechanics and black holes

Physicist Brian Cox takes us to a mind-bending world where quantum mechanics, black holes and the future of computing converge.

In this interview, Cox shares the engineering challenges behind building quantum computers and the intricate dance of storing information in their notoriously delicate memory. However, black holes have an unexpected link to quantum information storage. Cox discusses how Planck drives, holography, and redundancy could shape the future of computing.

It is a discussion that expands the mind and goes beyond the limits of our understanding. Even Cox says, “You’re not supposed to understand what I just said because I don’t understand what I just said because nobody understands what I just said.”

Welcome to the frontier where the laws of nature and technological innovation collide.

BRIAN COX: There is an engineering challenge in building quantum computers, which is how to store information in quantum computer memory in a safe and robust way, because quantum computer memory is notoriously susceptible to any interference from the external environment. If any environment in which the memory is embedded interacts with the memory in any way, the information will be destroyed.

And there are deep problems associated with the fact that you can’t copy information in quantum mechanics, which is basically the way your iPhone, or whatever it is, stores information and prevents errors from getting into the memory of the computers we’re on. all familiar with; It’s basically copying information. You can’t do that in quantum mechanics. So it’s a tremendous challenge.

Engineers had to develop very clever algorithms and ways of trying to store information in the computer’s quantum memory and construct the memory in such a way that it was error-resistant. And it turns out that the solutions that are being proposed and explored resemble the solutions that nature itself uses in the construction of space and time based on the quantum theory that lives on the frontier. It’s very weird.

What’s notable to me is an intimate relationship between If we go back to the beginning of work on black holes in the 1970s, Jacob Bekenstein, Stephen Hawking’s colleague in fact, one of the first researchers to actually start working on black holes alongside from big names like John Wheeler.

Bekenstein realized in a simple calculation that you can answer the question: “How much information can a black hole store?” It’s strange to say this because the model of a black hole is pure geometry, pure space-time. Now, how does something store some information? You need some structure. You need atoms or something that can store bits of information. Well, it turns out you can calculate what a black hole stores in bits. The information content is equal to the surface area of ​​the event horizon in square Planck units.

What is a Planck unit? It’s a fundamental distance in the Universe that you can calculate by putting together things like the force of gravity, Planck’s constant, the speed of light. It is the smallest distance we can sensibly talk about in physics as we understand it. The questions it raises: How is information stored? Why is the information content of a region of space equal to the surface area surrounding that region and not the volume?

If I asked you how much information you can store in your room, the room you’re sitting in right now, just say it’s a library, then you’d say, “Well, it has to do with how many books I can fit in the room.” But black holes seem to be telling us that there is something on the surface surrounding a region. This is the first glimpse, I think, of an idea called What Is This?

So if you think about what a hologram is, at the simplest level, it’s a piece of film. But this piece of film contains all the information to form a three-dimensional image. It’s the idea that there are different descriptions of our reality. There’s a description, which is that we live in this space, in the three dimensions of space, and time is a thing that works, and Einstein told us that they’re kind of confused, but yet you have this image of space being this, right, the thing in which we exist.

There is an equivalent description for a very specific model called by a physicist called Maldacena, which is a dual theory that lives purely on the boundary of space and space itself within this region. Therefore, it is strongly suggestive that there is a deeper theory of our experience of the world, of space and time, that does not contain space and time.

And that’s one of the wonderful surprises that really came out of studying black holes and trying to answer the very well-posed questions. I must say that Maldacena’s work was purely mathematical. It was not framed within the study of black holes, although the issues appear to be closely related.

So the study of black holes seems to strongly suggest that these ideas of holography, holographic universe, which came from a different region of physics, from trying to understand other things, these descriptions may be valid, perhaps in some sense true. And it looks like we’re starting to glimpse an answer, at least in very simplified models – and that is that information is stored at the boundary redundantly, meaning you can lose some of it and still completely specify the physics of the interior.

And it seems like this is similar or similar to how we will encode information in the memory of quantum computers in the future to protect them from errors. So I’m giving you an interpretation that, and there will be other people who will have different interpretations, but it seems that whatever quantum theory is underlying our reality, then there is some redundancy in the way information is stored in that quantum theory. theory. And it looks like this is similar to the way we will encode information in the memory of quantum computers in the future to protect them from errors.

And I just emphasize, you’re not meant to understand what I just said because I don’t understand what I just said because nobody understands what I just said, right? We’re getting glimpses of this theory, and that’s where the research is right now – that’s why it’s tremendously exciting.

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