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Quantum Computing Since Democritus

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  870 ratings  ·  81 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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Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Moved to gwern.net. ...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
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
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
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... ...more
Alex Zakharov
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you follow quantum computing at all, you are no doubt familiar with Scott Aaronson. He is not a physicist or a hard-core programmer or an engineer - his chief contributions are in the field of computational complexity (theoretical computer science). He runs the premier quantum computing blog (“shtetl optimized”), and it is the variant of his algorithm that Google used to achieve quantum supremacy a few months ago. Aaronson even managed to collaborate with the great Leonard Susskind to tease o ...more
Michelle Victora
Sep 01, 2021 rated it liked it
I LOVED the intro to this book. Almost lol'ed but I was in an airport while reading it. Was really excited, thought it was a perfect fit for me b/c it advertised itself as somewhere BETWEEN pop science and a textbook. As in, still entertaining and light, but also requiring a fair bit of math/physics understanding. I bet the book would be good for someone who had TAKEN a quantum computing/info class like the one Aaronson taught to produce these lecture notes. Unfortunately, even though I broadcas ...more
Mingyuan Zhang
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good read if you skip over things you don’t understand

There are a lot of concepts discussed in this book. I made the mistake trying to understand every definition and every proof. For the first few chapter, it was really painful. As soon as you are willing to accept some of the things are too hard to understand, and skip those, you will find this a very thought provoking and enjoyable book.
Martin Brochhaus
I don't think I can rate this, as I am way too stupid to fully understand even a single paragraph in this book.

It's damn funny, though, that's for sure.

But I have no idea who the target audience is. This was a lecture? Students were supposed to digest this? HOW? These students were all Stephen-Hawkings-level geniuses or what?

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. ...more
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it

I read up to the quantum section at which point I was only understanding 10% of the material. The parts I did read were fantastic. Aaronson is a joy to read. His enthusiasm for the field is obvious and contagious.

This is a hard book. I read each page at least twice, and many proofs far more than that. The proofs given are short and elegant. Godels incompleteness theorem is proved in a page while it occupies multiple chapters in Godel, Escher, Bach. You need to real
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found Quantum Computing Since Democritus from a reference in chapter 14 ('Quantum and Post-Quantum') in Serious Cryptography: A Practical Introduction to Modern Encryption, which I'd recommend reading if you're interested in a quick high-level treatment of the implications of QC on cryptography. ...more
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. ...more
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
Steve Abreu
Sep 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Without a doubt my favorite textbook.
Dec 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
Reading this book consisted of two types of experiences. Either I was reading something I already knew, or I was completely lost.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I learned a few things, like some foundational parts of complexity theory. But overall I found the book poorly written and hard to follow. Early on, I tried looking up all the stuff I didn’t understand on Wikipedia, and I learned a lot that way. (Yeah, the explanations in this book were on average less clear than Wikipedia articles on the t
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
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
Zarathustra Goertzel
Dec 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book. There were so many topics covered in detail that I've been meaning to get around to. (fortunately without full mathematical rigor, lest the book be far, far longer and less approachable). You'll get your quantum information theory and computing, but you'll get even more complexity theory. You'll also get insights on other topics (free will, time travel, cosmology, etc.) and how they are related to complexity and quantum theory.

Definitely recommended to anyone who doesn't m
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.
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.
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
Oct 31, 2021 rated it it was ok
When I asked a coworker about a book on quantum computing, he recommended this book. Unfortunately it turned out this was not a book I was looking for. This book is based on the author's lecture in 2006 with a few more additional contents. I was not a target audience, and with my very stale mathematical knowledge I couldn't understand majority of the contents.

This book is almost entirely about complexity theory, which is the author's main study area. The author skims through many topics from mat
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
Nov 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is worth a reading, however you will have to invest a huge quantity of effort. I cannot classify easily, I think the best description is just a philosophy book based on mathematical and physical arguments. The range of topics covered exceeds by much what you can study in the university in any of these fields. I think the target of public for this book are post graduate students and researchers. Nevertheless, even if you only can understand a small fraction or of it, you will learn many ...more
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. ...more
Paige McLoughlin
Good thing I was in a sciency mood today. I was able to digest very dense writings on quantum physics and matrices, Interpretations, set theory, P vs. NP, probabilistic computation, bayesian stats, and quantum computation, hadamard gates, the wave function, and all it hides behind it and I was able to somewhat grasp it with out too much intellectual indigestion (no brainy ache). Nice stuff. fun.
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. ...more
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...
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