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Quantum Computing Since Democritus

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  604 ratings  ·  58 reviews
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. Full of insights, arguments and philosophical perspectives, the book covers an amazing array of topics. Beginning in antiquity with Democritus, it progresses through logic and set theory, computability and c ...more
Paperback, 370 pages
Published March 2013 by Cambridge University Press (first published February 26th 2013)
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4.13  · 
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 ·  604 ratings  ·  58 reviews


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Gwern
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Aaronson's book is based off his online lecture notes which I hadn't read before though I've read his blog for years. I was really excited when the book was announced, since I hoped for expanded better version of his incredibly interesting paper/monograph "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity" (abstract: "...In particular, I argue that computational complexity theory - the field that studies the resources (such as time, space, and randomness) needed to solve computational ...more
Jason
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
"You can't actually build a working computer whose radius is more than 20 billion light years or whatever. It's depressing, but true." -- Scott Aaronson (*)

(* - What causes a sad for Scott Aaronson may differ from most people)

I'm going to likely re-read this one some time later when I find all the bits of cerebellum which squirted out my ears. After finishing this book I had a revelation about my favorite intellectual hobby; Quantum mechanics and computational complexity have a lot of interestin
...more
Robb Seaton
This reads a bit like, "Hey, I'm Scott Aaronson and here's my perspective on a bunch of topics," which -- don't get me wrong -- is entertaining because Scott has an, uh, impressive intellectual batting average. He's managed to glean a fair bit of insight about the sort of topics that mathematicians would call philosophy and philosophers would call mathematics.

The book suffers from lack of a really cohesive theme, though, which is what we're all chasing, right? Some beautiful, consistent theory t
...more
Rafi
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm in the fourth chapter of the book and already considered giving up for at least three times. You need a strong mathematical foundation to understand this book. Coming from a programming focused CS background, most of the contents are difficult, sometimes even impossible to digest.
Emily Bragg
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I now have a papers-and-books-and-topics reading list that might take a few years to complete. Pretty sure I didn't understand half of the interactive proofs chapter, and my takeaway (as it often is) is that I really need to know more math. One always needs to know more math...
Peter Mcloughlin
Fairly good book lots of new ideas but not for the mathematically lazy. There are exercises and ideas that are not the easiest to digest. This is not an easy peasy popularization. It is an interesting book with lots of cool ideas in quantum mechanics, computation theory, Mathematics and quantum computation. It is a book I will have to return to later but even on a cursory first reading I got a lot out of this book. Definitely something to look into.

10/11/15
Read the book a second time. Grasped
...more
Darnell
Feb 21, 2019 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
The author begins with self-deprecating jokes about his book having a tiny target audience, and he seems to be right. It assumes you have a deeper math background than I do, isn't particularly accessible, and when I managed to fully grasp sections I didn't find them particularly rewarding.
Vikrant Varma
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Aaronson has a breezy and lucid explanation style reminiscent of Feynman, and I found his first few chapters on set theory and basic complexity riveting. I wasn't able to understand 80% of the book though -- he starts off by explaining what numbers are and then very quickly assumes you already know quantum mechanics. I found the qualitative conclusions interesting anyway - a testament to his engaging prose.

Worth reading if you've studied QM, early sections are enjoyable even with undergrad level
...more
Amar Pai
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Not casual reading... but seemed worthwhile. I need to come back to this when I have more time and patience. It was too deep for me this time around. Couple of takeaways from skimming:

* quantum physics = what happens when you allow negative probabilities, and use a '2-norm' instead of '1-norm'. using 2-norm, all probabilities for an event = all points at a distance of 1 from origin. probability is an amplitude, can be positive or negative.

* quantum computing != 'try all possibilities at once'. i
...more
Alireza
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
It took me a long time to finish this book, mainly because I had to re-read some chapters several times; and even now I cannot claim I understand nearly 20% of it.

This book is a fascinating bridge between physics, computer science, and philosophy. As a CS student I've been exposed to many of the presented ideas before, but I couldn't comprehend the same material when it was written by Scott. Maybe it was presented at a higher level, or maybe I'm plainly stupid. Now imagine the times when I was
...more
Ben
Dec 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: physics
I had a difficult time with this. I don't recommend it unless you are already familiar with quantum mechanics, quantum computing, and complexity theory/more compsci than me. In many cases I felt that I would have preferred reading selected chapters of a straight QC book, some review articles, and Bostrom. Some pretty great sections - his interpretations on Quantum, fantastical arguments - I may go back to it after reading something less sketched out to get his insights.
Andrej
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Reads like an only lightly edited version of Aaronson's university lectures, with dorky jokes and everything. However, this is not a textbook. Rather than explaining everything, the book leaves (explicitly) a lot of work for the reader. Unfortunately, I didn't have time or inclination to reproduce dozens of mathematical proofs that the book alluded to, without going through them in sufficient detail. If there was a particular teaching goal, I missed it. In my view, the book mostly summarized Aar ...more
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
Damn, quantum computers may use parallel universes to speed up our calculations. How cool is that? We just need to figure out how to build such computers; we have no idea but the theoretical foundations have been evolving furiously. Even Democritus would be thrilled to know that our knowledge of the universe is setting the boundaries of our computational powers. And Scott does a great job scaring the hell out of us running through the resulting complexity bestiary. Not sure how brave you are, bu ...more
Aaron
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed the sections whose material I had seen before because Aaronson does a great job of connecting ideas in complexity theory, physics, and philosophy. However, I found it quite difficult to try to understand ideas I had never seen before. I'm looking forward to returning to these sections after reading more formal introductions to their subjects, such as interactive proofs. Overall, though, it should be made clear that this text is more loose lecture notes than a pedagogical introdu ...more
Gaetano Venezia
Given I'm not a full member of Aaronson's intended audience, I find it difficult to review the whole book—my knowledge of mathematics, physics, and computer science simply isn't extensive enough. However, his gloss on subjects I do understand were sometimes awkward and unintuitive. For example, I think Douglas Hofstadter's explanations of complexity, cognition, and Gödel's work are far superior.

Regardless of my difficulties with the book, it was enjoyable to look through and did offer some inter
...more
Nikoli
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This lies in an awkward sort of middle-ground between popular science books and a textbook, though I don't mean to imply that this is a bad thing. It's far too technical to be a pop-sci book, but perhaps not quite rigorous and focused enough to be a textbook. The large, broad coverage and emphasis on gaining more of an intuitive understanding of why certain things are the way they are is excellent.
Jesse
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Computational complexity is more interesting than what I would've imagined. It's not just about time and space complexity of an algorithm.

A follow up to this topic is the essay from the same author "Why Philosophers should care about computational complexity"

The book won't explain about anything quantum until you've read all the theoretical computer science chapters.
Conrado
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Frankly this went over my head pretty early on, and I wasn't in the mood to study it like a textbook. But the book gave a good glimpse on issues related to quantum computing and complexity. Don't expect this to be a gentle introduction to quantum computing. I might return to this book if I ever get a better understanding of the subject...
Alex Telfar
Nov 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: not-at-library
This style of writing it perfect! Amusing, fascinating and technical. This is certainly the first textbook I have laughed out loud to.

I love Scott's perspective on computation and it's connection to physics. I was fascinated by the connection between probability theory and quantum mechanics.

Overall Scott just seems to have a great thought process. Critical, playful and balanced.
Shozab Qasim
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Humorous and informative at the same time. Thoroughly enjoyed it! But make no mistake, its a very difficult read. If you're not interested in even one of Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Philosophy, then look elsewhere... If you are however, then you'll often find yourself smiling in both agreement and disagreement.
Bhargav C S
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books on computer science, math and physics. A very delightful read. The amount of insight contained is astonishing, especially the parts on complexity theory and quantum mechanics. Highly recommended for every budding computer scientist.
Jeremy
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I read this book to get a bit of introduction to the subject, and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I didn't get everything because I don't have the full computer science background, but I still thought it was great. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the subject.
Kyle MacDonald
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love it when a book functions both as a work of popular science and as a textbook. I've read it as the first, and worked through a few of the exercises that turn it into the second.
Thomas
Mar 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
I read half this book and realized it is not for me. I am not sure who this book is for, aside from the author.
Dmitry Tumanov
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good overview of quantum computing and the math behind it. Not an easy read, it is a good part philosophy book as well.
Ilya Klyuchnikov
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The book is smart, elegant and thought-provoking. The only drawback is that the book is uneven: some chapters are too dense and not "popularized" enough.
Luke Paulsen
Apr 23, 2016 rated it liked it
First, the big warning: This book is basically the annotated lecture notes for a graduate-level course in theoretical computer science. I've taken an undergrad CS theory course, *and* taken a fair bit of higher math (set theory, linear algebra, and so forth), *and* read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid several times cover to cover-- and still half the things in here were a complete mystery to me. Aaronson makes very optimistic assumptions about the reader's technical competence-- he ...more
Benjamin De Baets
Apr 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
On free will:
"STUDENT: Can we even define free will?

SCOTT: Yeah, that's an excellent question. It's very hard to separate the question of whether free will exists from the question of what the definition of it is. What I was trying to do is, by saying what I think free will is not, give some idea of what the concept seems to refer to. It seems to me to refer to some transition in the state of the universe where there are several possible outcomes, and we can't even talk coherently about a probab
...more
Ari
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an odd book. I had vaguely expected it to be a relatively accessible and popular treatment of quantum computing, or failing that, an advanced introduction to the topic. It is neither. (See David Mermin's Quantum Computer Science if you want that)

Instead, this book is Scott Aaronson trying to explain what he does and why he does it, emphasizing the big ideas and surprising insights in modern complexity theory and particularly quantum complexity theory.

The exposition is quite technical. Al
...more
Peter Aronson
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had a fair amount of fun with this, even though I knew going in that a lot of it was going to be over my head. Yes, I have a bachelor's in Computer and Information Science, but it's over 35 years old, and my work since then has been strictly applied. And yes, I've been reading in this space (Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos, The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine, Gödel, Escher, ...more
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  • The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of: The Most Astounding Papers of Quantum Physics--and How They Shook the Scientific World

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“More often than not, the only reason we need experiments is that we're not smart enough.” 4 likes
“What's the point of talking about philosophical questions? Because we're going to be doing a fair bit of it here – I mean, of philosophical bullshitting. Well, there's a standard answer, and it's that philosophy is an intellectual clean-up job – the janitors who come in after the scientists have made a mess, to try and pick up the pieces. So in this view, philosophers sit in their armchairs waiting for something surprising to happen in science – like quantum mechanics, like the Bell inequality, like Gödel's Theorem – and then (to switch metaphors) swoop in like vultures and say, ah, this is what it really meant. Well, on its face, that seems sort of boring. But as you get more accustomed to this sort of work, I think what you'll find is...it's still boring!” 3 likes
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