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Quantum Computing since Democritus Paperback – March 14, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 398 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521786495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521786492
  • ASIN: 0521199565
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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. Aaronson 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, 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. Aaronson 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?"
Frederic Green, 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 ... 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

"... lively, casual, and clearly informed by the author's own important work ... stimulating ... It should prove valuable to anyone interested in computational complexity, quantum mechanics, and the theory of quantum computing."
Francis Sullivan, Physics Today

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.

Customer Reviews

Quantum computers are analyzed from a computational complexity perspective with very interesting relations.
P. Melecrinis
And if you've never thought about these things before, or if you've heard about them and wanted to know what they're really about, you're in for a wonderful ride.
Cristopher Moore
Aaronson is one of the foremost experts in this space, yet I found his writing quite accessible to a layperson like myself.
George Babu

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Seel on October 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
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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41 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Hickey on March 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
To start with, I must say I'm an absolute layman when it comes to the subjects Aaronson is writing about here -- I'm a writer and software engineer, and my knowledge of physics and computer science comes from popularisations only.

That said, this is an absolutely marvelous introduction to what Aaronson refers to as quantitative epistemology. Aaronson here provides a basic overview of some of the most important concepts in the areas where mathematics, computation and physics meet, in an easy, comprehensible style. If you're interested in quantum mechanics, Turing machines, Godel's incompleteness theorem, or the P vs NP question, you'll find the best explanations I've seen in here.

The lectures on which this is based are all available on Aaronson's website for free, and I have read them many times over the years, but the book goes into more depth and holds together better, while keeping the humour of the originals.

This is not an easy-going book -- it requires work from the reader to follow, and you won't get all of it the first time. But nor is it an academic textbook -- there is some mathematics in it, but anyone who remembers fairly basic things like matrix multiplication should be fine following it.

In the title of this review I call it the Feynman Lectures for QC, and while it's nowhere near as thorough as that great work, it manages the rare feat of being both as clear and entertaining and as scientifically rigorous.

If you have any doubt as to whether this is the book for you or not, the lecture notes are still available to read for free on Aaronson's website. But I guarantee that if you have any interest at all in the most basic building blocks of our knowledge -- what we really know, deep down, about the way things work on the most fundamental level, you will not be disappointed in this book.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Luca turin on March 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Those familiar with Scott Aaronson's "shtetl-optimized" blog will love this book, because it is -unsurprisingly- written in the same mood which I would describe as didactic frenzy. Reading it, you get the feeling that if Aaronson were in the same room as you and got the impression you did not understand a particular point, he would instantly come up with another five ways of explaining it until you got it, and you would get no supper or sleep until that happened. Personally, I think people like that are sufficiently rare and precious that they should be made National Monuments, as some potters and swordsmiths apparently are in Japan. Aaronson so perfectly expresses the peculiar ozonic air of quantum information theory, a weird and unexpected mixture of cosmos-sized questions with little machines outputting tapes of ones and zeroes, that you will get a thrill reading this book even if you understand nothing. I understood about 5% on first pass and thought it wonderful. I hope to bring that up to 25% over the next few years and would be well pleased if that happened.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A. Gutfraind on March 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
If you take a conventional course in quantum computing, you might come to believe that the field is populated by a strange sort of people: they are preoccupied with freezing atoms in a tank just to add two plus two. Solving useful problems is an impossible dream for the foreseeable future, and so this field appears to have the same relevance to humanity, as oil drilling was to the neanderthals. But you would be wrong. As Dr. Aaronson shows, Quantum Computing raises the most central problems in one of the most exciting developments in modern science: the quest to unify Physics and Computation. The field is new, but we are incomparably closer to the answers than we were just 40 years ago.

This is book is unique - the problems are explained through a Socratic method, discussing with you, the reader, the problems and solutions with minimal jargon, and sparing use of notation.
(I wish more books were like it!) Each chapter opens with naive questions that lead to increasingly deep questions, and ultimately the open problems. You will find yourself fully understanding the foundations of the field, comprehending its achievements, but also, in a way, sitting on the shoulders of giants, as they are scratching their heads.
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Quantum Computing since Democritus
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