Lloyd, Seth 1960-

views updated

Lloyd, Seth 1960-


Born August 2, 1960, in Boston, MA; son of Robert Andrew and Susan Margaret Lloyd. Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1982; Cambridge University, M.Phil., 1984; Rockefeller University, Ph.D., 1988.


Home—Cambridge, MA. Office—Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge MA 02139-4307. E-mail—[email protected]


Physicist, researcher, educator, consultant and writer. Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, research scientist, 1979; Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY; research scientist, 1980; Institute Laue-Langevin, Grenoble France, research scientist, 1981; European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), research scientist, 1982; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, research fellow, 1988-91; Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, research fellow, 1991-94; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, 1994-98, Finmeccanica Career Development Professorship, 1996—, associate professor of mechanical engineering, 2001-02, professor of mechanical engineering, 2002—, also principal investigator of research laboratory electronics. Also adjunct faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute, 1987—, and consultant to companies, including Quantum Technologies, 1996—, Hewlett Packard, 1998—, and Microsoft, 2000—.


American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Physical Society.


Sargent Prize, Harvard University, 1981; Marshall Scholarship, 1982; Dirac Prize, 1985; Lindbergh Fellowship, 1994; Finmeccanica Career Development Professorship, 1996; Edgerton Prize, 2001.


Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to journals, including Physical Review, Annals of Physics, Physics Letters, Science, Vistas in Astronomy, Journal of Modern Optics, Scientific American, Computers in Physics, Journal of Optics, and Nature. Editor and columnist, Harvard Review, 1985-87. Reviewer for Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, both 1988—.


Seth Lloyd is a physicist whose primary areas of interest are information on complex systems and quantum computing. In his areas of study, Lloyd focuses both on very small and very large systems. In the case of very small systems, he is interested in areas such as how the atom processes information and how one can make them compute. His interest in large systems focuses on topics such as how society processes information and what this means for understanding society. Especially known for his work in the fields of quantum computation and quantum communications, the author has earned a reputation as an innovative leader. In an article on the Westside Web site, Jacob West explained the primary difference between a traditional computer and a quantum computer, writing: "Where a classical computer obeys the well understood laws of classical physics, a quantum computer is a device that harnesses physical phenomenon unique to quantum mechanics (especially quantum interference) to realize a fundamentally new mode of information processing." Much of Lloyd's work is based on his theory that information can have a quantifiable value, just like motion or mass.

Lloyd's first book is Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the author "throws out many fascinating ideas." Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, commented that Lloyd addresses "big questions in accessible, comprehensive fashion" and that the book "is of vital importance to the general-science audience." In his book, the author presents his theory that the universe is actually a giant quantum computer.

"I know it sounds crazy," the author told Jason Pontin in an interview for the Technology Review. The author went on to note in the interview: "And people who have reviewed the book take it as a metaphor. But it's factually the case. We couldn't build quantum computers unless the universe were quantum and computing.

We can build such machines because the universe is storing and processing information in the quantum realm. When we build quantum computers, we're hijacking that underlying computation in order to make it do things we want: little and/or/not calculations. We're hacking into the universe."

In his book, the author reveals both the professional and personal paths that led him to his amazing conclusion about the universe, including a poignant story about the death of his mentor while the two were mountain climbing in Colorado. The author told Greg Ross in an interview on the American Scientist Online: "My vision of the world as processing information arose out of my day-to-day work building quantum computers. Since I made this realization, my own vision of the world has changed and evolved. The more information I process in my own thoughts, the more convinced I am that the theory of the computational universe is the right theory."

The author begins his book by answering the question of what the universe computes if it is a quantum computer. The answer is: itself. Rudy Rucker, writing on Rudy's Blog, noted: "He suggests there is only one possible state for the start of the universe; it starts out with no bits of info at all. And the universe computes itself from there."

The author goes on in Programming the Universe to explain how complete understanding of the laws of physics will enable scientists to employ quantum computing to completely understand the universe. He explains in detail how various quantum processes convey information and how this played a central role in the creation of the universe. Following his discussion of physical laws and quantum mechanics, the author delves into the history of the universe, from its creation via what scientists call the Big Bang to how the universe appears and operates today.

In a summation of the book in the New York Times Book Review, Corey S. Powell noted: "Seth Lloyd certainly gives his readers a lot of bang for their buck. In the space of 221 dense, frequently thrilling and occasionally exasperating pages, he tackles computer logic, thermodynamics, chaos theory, complexity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, consciousness, sex and the origin of life—throwing in, for good measure, a heartbreaking afterword that repaints the significance of all that has come before."

Several reviewers especially noted the author's ability to explain complex aspects of quantum physics and quantum computers. "It's amazingly readable, given the heavy subject matter," wrote Rucker on Rudy's Blog. "Lloyd has a light, deft touch, and he tells good jokes in passing. One has a sense of a lively, humane intelligence working throughout." Jurgen Schmidhuber, writing in the American Scientist, noted: "He lucidly explains what quantum computation is all about, how the process of quantum entanglement seems to involve an instantaneous exchange of information between locations that can be light-years apart, and why this phenomenon unfortunately cannot be exploited to transmit information faster than light. He also describes how quantum computers would be able to solve certain problems much faster than their traditional counterparts."



American Scientist, July 1, 2006, Jurgen Schmidhuber, "The Computational Universe," p. 364.

Australasian Business Intelligence, September 20, 2004, Stephen Battersby, "Quantum Rules Cut Top Speed for Information."

Booklist, February 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos, p. 28.

Choice, July 1, 2006, E. Kincanon, review of Programming the Universe, p. 2031.

Discover, September, 2002, Kathy A. Svitil, "Number Crunching the Cosmos," p. 10; May 2006, Laurence Marschall, "Cosmic Number Cruncher: Are We All Widgets in One Giant Quantum Computer?," profile of author, p. 70.

Library Journal, February 15, 2006, Ian D. Gordon, review of Programming the Universe, p. 143.

MMR, September 18, 2000, "High-Tech Comes to Devices," p. 21.

Nature, January 25, 2007, Artur Ekert, "The Universe's Quantum Monkeys," p. 366.

New York Times Book Review, April 2, 2006, Corey S. Powell, "Welcome to the Machine," p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 2005, review of Programming the Universe, p. 49.

Science News, March 25, 2006, review of Programming the Universe, p. 191.

SciTech Book News, June, 2006, review of Programming the Universe.

Technology Review, July-August, 2006, Jason Pontin, "Hacking the Universe," p. 24.

Today's Parent, September, 2000, Holly Bennett, "Meet the Library," p. 128.

U.S. News & World Report, April 3, 1989, William F. Allman, "Complexity Made Simpler: How Complicated an Object Is May Turn Not on What It Is but What Went into Making It," p. 61.

Wichita Business Journal, September 15, 2000, "10—New Lawsuits," p. 17.

Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2006, David Lindley, "The Cosmic Computer," p. 116.


American Scientist Online,http://www.americanscientist.org/ (February 4, 2008), Greg Ross, "The Bookshelf Talks with Seth Lloyd."

Edge,http://edge.org/ (February 8, 2008), profile of author.

MIT MechE,http://meche.mit.edu/ (February 8, 2008), faculty profile of author.

NECSI,http://necsi.org/ (February 8, 2008), profile of author.

Rudy's Blog,http://www.rudyrucker.com/blog/ (June 1, 2006), Rudy Rucker, review of Programming the Universe.

Seth Lloyd Home Page,http://www.randomhouse.com/kvpa/lloyd/author.html (February 4, 2008).

Tired Ire,http://tiredire.blogspot.com/ (October 10, 2007), review of Programming the Universe.

Westside,http://www.cs.caltech.edu/~westside/ (April 28, 2000), Jacob West, "The Quantum Computer."

Wired,http://www.wired.com/ (February 8, 2008), "Life, the Universe, and Everything," interview with author.