Can a close look at the universe give us solutions to problems too difficult for a computer – even if we built a computer larger than a planet? Physicist Stephen Jordan reflects on this question in a new video by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), along with a new scientific paper that considers one particular tough problem the universe might answer.
In The Computational Power of the Universe, Jordan does not imagine what we could learn if humanity somehow converted the entire cosmos into a vast computing device (however marvelous a science-fiction premise that idea might make). Rather, he asks, now that the universe has undergone billions of years of change in accordance with the laws of nature, can we use what we see through our telescopes to gain insights into difficult computational problems? After all, computers crunch numbers to simulate complex change. What if we consider the cosmos to be the output of a 13.7-billion year computation?